The next time someone asks you about social networking, and what it is, or to describe a social networking website, you need look no further than the laws of the state of Illinois. Because Illinois has taken the unusal step of defining just what makes a social networking site, in the context of their new law banning sex offenders from using any social networking site.
According to Illinois, a social networking website is “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 question of the wisdom of such a law aside (and I think we make amply clear where we stand on these sorts of laws here and here), and the fact that just about anybody with a computer, an Internet connection, and a pulse can now find themselves labelled as a sex offender notwithstanding (and if you’re a teen girl all it takes is an adventurous spirit and a cell phone), this incredibly over-broad law means that anybody who has found themselves labelled as a sex offender in Illinois risks violating the law if they visit just about any web site.
Oh sure, the law may have been intended to target MySpace and Facebook and the like. But the definition is so generic that it also covers not just nearly any other traditional network site (think LinkedIn, or any dating service) but, arguably, just about any blog that accepts comments (especially those that display avatars), any forums sites and, hey, most shopping sites.
Of course, unless the State of Illinois is also going to put all sex offenders under house arrest, and issue them each unique and persistant IP addresses, it will be next to impossible to trace and track their online activities.
But it will sure be interesting to see them try.