US prison system proposes total social media ban for inmates, sparking First Amendment concerns

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A hot potato: Should incarcerated individuals be allowed to use social media? The US federal prison system has proposed a change in its rules that would see prisoners who use these platforms punished. Even directing others to establish and use social media accounts on their behalf would be prohibited in some cases. Civil liberties advocates say this would infringe on the First Amendment rights of people both in and out of prison.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) earlier this year proposed a rule change that makes accessing, using, or maintaining social media accounts by prisoners a high-severity-level prohibited act considered to be on the same scale as fighting, blackmail, extortion, and bribery.

Federal inmates are already banned from using cell phones and restricted from accessing the Internet, Reuters reports.

The BOP argues that if an inmate’s Facebook account were being operated to convey content from the inmate himself, it would open the door to them communicating with a virtually unlimited number of individuals, including affiliated gang members and the victims of their crimes.

Inmates’ rights advocacy groups say that the rule would restrict the First Amendment rights of not only prisoners but also people who are not in BOP custody. Ebony Underwood, whose nonprofit We Got Us Now works with the children of incarcerated parents, called the social media proposal “archaic and so inhumane.”

“Social media has been an avenue for so many young people in my community to be able to advocate for our parents,” she added.

Advocates say that the rules could stop people from making posts about inmates in case it leads to a serious punishment such as a longer prison term, solitary confinement, or a deduction of good time credits.

A separate part of the proposed rule change would enable the Bureau to target and eliminate inmates’ use of fund transfer services like CashApp. When inmates use these services to send and receive money, Bureau staff are unable to monitor the transfers due to the platforms’ use of encryption.

Back in 2021, it was discovered that Facebook was testing an app that helps prisoners transition back into society. We’ve heard little else about the Re-Entry app since then, though there are other apps that offer similar services.

Masthead: vickens_dan

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