On Tuesday, Illinois made it a felony for sex offenders to sign up for social networking sites.
The law will go into effect almost exactly one year after the release of a comprehensive report from Harvard which found that there is no increased risk of predation for kids on social networking sites. Period.
Getting a job can be tough already for registered sex offenders—harder now, because they'll be blocked from many effective job search tools thanks to the law big blowzy definition of "social networking." The same goes for finding housing.
To be sure, some sex offenders are child raping scum. But if we really think such people can be trusted to do normal things in normal society, well, isn't that what prison is for?
And, as Reason has frequently noted, the list of sex offenders is an awful lot broader than your run-of-the-mill child raping scum. Restrictions placed on sex offenders too often miss their mark, thanks to an overly broad legal definition of the term. The Illinois social networking ban (or similar bans in other states) could include, for instance, teens who happened to get caught sexting, a 13-year-old who hooked up with a 12-year-old (she's not only an offender, she's also a victim!), public urinaters, and people who were simply accused of an offense.
But mostly, the ever-longer list of restrictions on who offenders can associate with, where they can live or work, and what they can do with their free time means a ever-larger number of ways to screw something up and wind up back in jail. In some cities, sex offenders are rounded up on Halloween to prevent them from preying on trick-or-treaters. Fail to show and you're in serious trouble. So now, in 2025, when the 13-year-old girl with the 12-year-old boyfriend innocently joins some future manifestation of Facebook before her high school reunion to laugh at how fat he has everyone has gotten, she could wind up in the slammer.
The definition of "social networking site in the law's language is sweeping:
“Social networking website” means an Internet website containing profile web pages of the members of the website that include the names or nicknames of such members, photographs placed on the profile web pages by such members, or any other personal or personally identifying information about such members and links to other profile web pages on social networking websites of friends or associates of such members that can be accessed by other members or visitors to the website. A social networking website provides members of or visitors to such website the ability to leave messages or comments on the profile web page that are visible to all or some visitors to the profile web page and may also include a form of electronic mail for members of the social networking website."
The folks over at Tech Liberation Front (happy fifth birthday guys!) see the bright side, hoping that a law targeted specifically at bad actors will stave off more onerous requirements for the rest of us, like tech mandates or age verification. True enough, but they must have been feeling especially optimistic due to their upcoming happy hour.