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Sex offenses involving social media sites on the rise

A recent study of arrest information out of 25 police departments in the U.K. indicates that the number of cases of rape and sexual assault involving social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is on the rise. Reports of incidents involving social media sites have increased from 164 in 2009 to 614 in 2012. More than half of the reported incidents involved children under the age of 16.

Although the study focused on the U.K., it reflects the reality in the U.S. and other parts of the world where social media use is prevalent. In many cases, the people using these sites are young and susceptible to efforts by others to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, efforts to prevent genuinely unlawful use of social media are likely to prove not only unwieldy, but also overbroad.

Prevention efforts may have unintended consequences

Of course, sites like Facebook want to do all they can to prevent the use of their sites by sex offenders. Facebook's efforts to restrict certain groups of people from joining the site - including those under the age of 13 - have, however, proven ineffective and it has had to employ different strategies to protect its younger users.

Generally, sites like Facebook choose to monitor communications between users to identify potentially unlawful activity. Software flags potentially abuse messages and an employee looks over the message. If the employee thinks it is warranted, he will contact police for further investigation.

While this approach may, in fact, succeed in catching and stopping some sex offenders, it presents genuine opportunity for sites to flag users for perfectly lawful speech. Indeed, any attempt to mark potentially inappropriate speech using computer software is bound to catch instances of lawful conversations between adults. Furthermore, even though employees looking at questionable content may receive some training, they are not police officers and they may not possess the skills needed to identify illegal speech.

In today's climate, even an accusation that a person has committed a sex crime - no matter how tenuous the accusation or how unsubstantiated the evidence - can have a grave impact on a person's reputation in the community. Unfortunately, the systems that social media sites use to protect young users from predators may succeed in implicating innocent people, as well.

No matter the situation, if you are facing investigation for a sex crime, do not delay: call an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you protect your rights.

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