Should Sex Offenders Register On Social Media Sites?
A week ago I stumbled upon the story of one Mr. Charles Eric Waugh, and his love of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Mr. Waugh started a Twitter account some time ago and made it his personal space for uniting the Buckeye nation, and encouraging his team, the coaching staff, and potential recruits (which is in violation of NCAA rules and regs.)
Initially a firestorm descended upon him when fellow fans asked him not to tweet/at mention/spam potential recruits because of the probability of being slapped with a violation; a hot bed topic in college ball right now. Then things got..."creepy".
A website, www.landgrantholyland.com, reported some digging into Mr. Waugh's past and brought to light something unsavory: a sex offender status. And his convicted crime? Possession of and the act of downloading pornography of boys under the age of 16. He was convicted in 2007 in Kentucky, did four years of probation, and up until a week ago went about his business: attending OSU games, rubbing elbows with underage recruits, and repeatedly making contact with underage and of age recruits and players through his Twitter account, which is now suspended.
Upon the discovery of this officials at OSU sent a mass text to all athletic personnel and students advising them to block/unfriend Mr. Waugh because of his sex offender status. Twitter HQ was bombarded with requests and demands from users insisting Mr. Waugh's most recent twitter account, which boasted 400 followers before suspension, be banned immediately.
Thanks to the power of social media, on May 7, 2012, www.landgrantholyland.com again reported that Charles Eric Waugh had been arrested and booked for, among other things, "one count of probation violation and another for failing to comply with the sexual offender registration." A possible Class A misdemeanor charge for his use of social networks in communicating with persons under 18 looms overhead for Mr. Waugh as well.
This situation brings to light an interesting concept that we all should consider: should sex offenders be forced to reveal themselves through social media? And if they don't, can they be prosecuted for not doing so? There are two sides to this conversation: on one hand we don't want to risk turning the internet into more of a lynch mob than it already is, but on the other hand, if Mr. Waugh's sex offender status were known, would he have ever had access to any of the underage OSU recruits, some of whom he has met in person?
Social Media is still the Wild West of the internet. We've yet to really understand how powerful it can be, and how careful exactly we should be with it. The beauty of the internet is the freedom it provides each of us to speak, think, and behave as we so choose. We don't want our internet turning into a policed environment. But, we also want to protect our nation's children. And sadly, there just aren't enough Chris Hansen's running around catching internet predators.
There is a football player by the name of Alex Anzalone. Anzalone was pictured with Mr. Waugh several months ago before this all came out. In the wake of this situation, Anzalone, a commitment to OSU, has de-committed to the football program and university and one can only assume is facing quite a bit of judgment and persecution from peers for being pictured with Mr. Waugh.
I want us all to imagine if Alex were our son. Imagine his humiliation and embarrassment that Eric Waugh was allowed to get so close to him, and now perhaps he feels uncomfortable playing college football at what may very well have been his dream college. This is all conjecture of course. But if it were my kid....I'd be enraged, hurt, and I would demand that sex offenders not be allowed to get away with actions such as Mr. Waugh's.
I don't think there is an easy answer here. But the conversation has to start somewhere, and it has to keep going, until it gets all the way to the top and something gives. As a mother, and as a relative of someone who lived for many years with a registered sex offender without knowledge, I whole heartedly believe sex offenders should be forced to reveal their registered status in their chosen forms of social media, as well as within their communities. Be it Wild West or not, the internet and Social Media IS a community, and our children WILL BE a part of it inevitably. They are just as entitled to the beauty of the internet as adults. And they are certainly more entitled to it than convicted sex offenders.
I'd like to thank Luke Zimmermann at www.landgrantholyland.com for his continued coverage of this situation and his efforts to raise awareness of it, the thousands of individuals on blogs and through Twitter who worked to bring Mr. Waugh to justice, and Ohio State University for their attempts to protect the innocence and reputations of student athletes and minors. I feel a little safer knowing that there are sheriffs and deputies roaming the hot and dusty deserts of the Wild West Internet, and if need be, they will come to the defense of our nation's children.