New legislation headed for the governor’s desk tries to crack down on prison inmates who have been able to create Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking accounts and are using those accounts to intimidate former victims and even order hits on enemies.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) first proposed the bill last year after a Charleston Post & Courier article revealed dozens of inmates statewide had active Facebook accounts in their names. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to send it to the governor.
“We have to do something,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “We can’t wait a day longer.”
Officials with the state Department of Corrections say inmates are able to maintain their accounts by using cell phones smuggled into the prison. Prison guards regularly confiscate hundreds of phones each year statewide, according to Corrections Department spokesman Clark Newsom.
Gilliard’s original proposal would have forbidden an inmate from having a social network account at all. But several lawmakers blocked that version, concerned its language would criminalize accounts those created by friends and family members meant to show solidarity with a person they believed wrongly imprisoned.
The final version that passed Wednesday would only make it a crime for a person to create such an account for the purpose of harassing or intimidating a crime victim. It would apply both to an inmate or a person outside of prison who creates an account in the inmate’s name. Anyone found guilty could be fined up to $500 or spend up to 30 days in jail.
The final language was created by a joint House-Senate conference committee last week.
Gilliard said he was proud of the bill’s passage. It is the first time that the Democrat has sponsored a bill which became law in the Republican-controlled chamber. He hoped the threat of more prison time would discourage inmates from using the accounts.
“It’s sad that these thugs are using modern-day technology as a tool for corruption and disruption in our society,” he said.
Facebook’s policy requires it to shut down the accounts of active inmates in South Carolina. However, the company rarely acts unless it receives a complaint.