keeping our kids safe from predators facebook

Judge Stops Facebook Users From Tracking Pedophiles

Parents are rightfully worried about protecting their children from online sex predators. The anonymity of the internet allows pedophiles to prey on unsuspecting children while the children surf around on Facebook or other social media websites. A case from Belfast, Ireland though could turn this entire equation upside down when parents begin using Facebook to track pedophiles.

Facebook allows its users to set up pages tailored to specific interests, such as movies, political movements and pets. One such page, called “Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators,” (KOKSFP) posted the names and pictures of convicted sex offenders around the world. One such offender, known only as XY at his request, claims that the page caused him to be attacked and his rental apartment burned down. XY had previously served a six-year prison sentence for a series of crimes against children. XY demanded that the page be taken down to preserve his privacy and safety.

keeping our kids safe from predators facebookJudge Bernard McCloskey ruled in favor of XY, stating that XY had already served his sentence to society. Although Facebook had already removed XY’s picture and name from the page, Judge McCloskey still ordered the KOKSFP page removed despite Facebook’s protests that the page had 4,000 users. Facebook relented, but a new page titled “Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators 2” has since appeared. It is unclear if the new page was created by the people who ran the original one.

Although this case takes place in Ireland, the facts are still applicable to American law, given that many states keep sex offender registries and that Facebook is used by Americans just as much as the Irish. The case is interesting on a number of levels, including free speech issues, individual rights issues and the rule of law in general.

The first conflict to consider if a similar case were to appear in the United States is free speech and free press. Citizens should have the right to speak their minds about anything they want, particularly if the issue pertains to the safety of their children. However, it has also been established that speech used for criminal purposes, such as solicitation of immediate violence, is not protected by the Constitution. It is arguably foreseeable that posting the names and pictures of people who commit extremely offensive crimes could incite violence, as XY claims.

The users of KOKSFP would protest that some sex offender registries are already public information and the Facebook page is simply an extension of such registries. The problem with that argument is that official sex offender registries are maintained by local and state officials, and so any errors or incidents can be traced to an accountable party. Facebook users, in contrast, can be anonymous if they wish to be so. Although it may seem excessive to take down an entire page with thousands of users at the request one man, given that other convicts could be targeted, the remedy isn’t that disproportionate.

The second issue behind this case is the ancient conflict between individual rights and community safety. In the United States particularly, concepts such as individual privacy and due process before deprivation of life and liberty are crucial to a fair legal system. Of course, the entire point of government is to protect the community and this latest case will no doubt fuel the cries that “criminals have more rights than law-abiding citizens.” The legal system is built on accuracy though, with specific punishments for specific crimes. Although it is arguable that keeping sex offenders anonymous increases the likelihood they will commit the crimes again, there is neither proof of that nor can the law punish a person for a crime he or she has not done.

Victim’s rights are protected when the criminal is discovered, convicted, and given their specific punishment. The criminal cannot be punished outside of that system without running the risk of turning the criminal into a victim of another crime. Some parents might say that only other parents could understand what it means to care about their children, but arguing that child rape is somehow worse than other crimes, like the murder of an adult, is an insult to the victims of other crimes.

More importantly though, a person cannot be deprived of life or liberty without due process and as Judge McCloskey has pointed out, XY (and possibly others listed on the Facebook page) have already been punished for his crimes. Although XY’s crimes were offensive to every decent person in society, acting outside the law only undermines the law. Some truly cynical folks will say that the courts are useless or that judges do not care about the people they claim to serve, so the rule of law is dispensable anyway. The rule of law, however, must exist to remind society what it is that humans owe to their fellow human beings – even those humans society hates and despises. Men like XY are hated and despised for good reason, but XY’s actions shouldn’t change how decent people should act.

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