A new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, found that more than 400 prisoners in South Carolina have been placed in solitary confinement for using social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
The prisoners reportedly accessed social media sites on cellphones that were smuggled into jails or by giving their personal log-in information to people outside prisons who update their postings.
The EFF based its report on material it received from the state under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections has made the "facilitation, conspiracy, aiding, abetting in the creation or updating of an Internet website or social networking site" a Level 1 offense, which is equal to the "most violent violations of prison conduct," reports the EFF.
The inmates are penalized for each day they post on Facebook or another website. So, for example, five posts over five days would mean five years in solitary confinement.
The EFF states in its report, "If a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks."
The EFF also noted, "In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate receiving more than 37 years in isolation."
Facebook has reportedly suspended inmates for sharing their log-in information with other people, which is a violation of the social media site's terms of service.
The EFF reports that Facebook has suspended inmates' accounts even though they have not violated any terms of service policies, but rather because the South Carolina Department of Corrections asked Facebook to do so.
Facebook told the EFF that it does not enforce prison rules, but it does offer an “Inmate Account Takedown Request” for prison employees to use for any reason.
The EFF also obtained an email in which Facebook granted the request of a South Carolina prison employee who wanted an inmate's page removed and Facebook did so for "not following inmate regulations."
In 2013, Facebook joined the "Global Network Initiative, a non-governmental organization promoting Internet freedom and privacy rights," noted RawStory.com.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections has a page on its website where the public can report prisoners if they think they are using social media sites.
The solitary confinement punishments are sometimes longer than the average prison sentence of inmate, which is five to 10 years, and this violation happens so often that South Carolina jails don't have the room to enforce these punishments.
Slate.com notes that as "long as prison officials can toss out some pretense about a security needs, the courts will sign off on almost any censorship of speech," if it does not fall under religious expression.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture condemned American police brutality and the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons in 2014, noted VOANews.com.