Facebook Jail Is Closing

Facebook wants to be better to inmates, but hundreds are still being punished for using social media.


There are a lot of things you could do to rack up a “level-one offense” as an inmate in South Carolina. You could start a riot, rape an inmate, commit a murder, or take a hostage. Or you could simply update you Facebook status.

South Carolina is, thankfully, on the extreme end of the prison system’s attempt to deal with inmates’ use of social media. And, to be fair, there are legitimate reasons for concern. Inmates have been caught using Facebook to continue harassing their victims from behind bars and even sending threatening messages to witnesses. But for many it’s just a way to maintain tenuous connections to friends and family. And if South Carolina hasn’t taken the time to discern between two very different activities, neither had Facebook, which eliminated inmate accounts whenever requested by correctional officers. 

That’s about to change. The Atlantic reports that Facebook will now require corrections officers to prove some violation of prison policy or terms of use when asking for an account to be suspended. It’s hard to know exactly how many incarcerated users this affects — the dominant social media site of our time hasn’t released numbers for suspended accounts. Speaking strictly for South Carolina and California, the EFF estimates about 700 accounts have been closed to accommodate prison official requests.

And while it’s cool that Facebook wants to treat people equally regardless of their criminal records, without some prisons voluntarily changing their rules or some form of legislation, this will remain a battle ground for freedom of speech. That’s cold comfort to the South Carolina inmate who got sentenced to more than 37 years in isolation for social networking.