Vermont May Require Sex Offenders to Use Real Names on Social Networks

by Larry Magid

The state of Vermont is considering a law that would make it illegal for convicted sex offenders to use a false name on social networking sites like Facebook.

The proposed law, which would impose a prison sentence of not more than two years and/or a fine of $1,000, wouldn’t ban registered sex offenders from using sites like Facebook, but would require that they sign-up under their actual name.

According to the Associated Press, the proposed law was drafted after a single incident was reported in the state.

In 2009, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (that I served on) issued a report that concluded that children and teens are less vulnerable to sexual predation than many had feared.   While the task force found that youth risk from predators is a concern, the overwhelming majority of youth are not in danger of being harmed by an adult predator they meet online.

Facebook already has a policy to remove accounts of registered sex offenders and has other mechanisms in place to check for suspicious activity between minors and adults.

The company’s Safety for Teens help section provides specific advice to teens on how to handle inappropriate contact. ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization I help operate offers Social Web Tips for Teens Facebook also maintains a safety center with links to articles and videos about Facebook safety and Internet safety in general.

The proposed law has the support of Hemanshu Nigam, former federal prosecutor and former chief security officer at MySpace whose company,SSPBlue provides security and safety assistance to online companies. “With more and more registered sex offenders living online, it makes a lot of sense that we know where they are just like we already do in the real world. It is time our laws reflect the realities of the digital age,” said Nigam.

(Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support for ConnectSafely.org).


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