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Texas bars Facebook, Twitter for prisoners

Technically Incorrect: The state is seeking to clamp down on inmates who access social media either through illegal smartphones or through family and friends.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Should prisoners have Facebook accounts?

Jochen Eckel/dpa/Corbis

Some people on Twitter and Facebook are prisoners of fate, of their psyches, or of social media. Some are actual prisoners.

Inmates might open and run social media accounts themselves through contraband smartphones or get help from friends and family members.

Texas is putting its foot down, though, and has become the latest state to ban prisoners from appearing on social media. Maine and South Carolina, for example, already have similar strictures in place.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark told me: "Offenders have used social media accounts to sell items over the Internet based on the notoriety of their crime, harass victims or victim's families, and continue their criminal activity."

With this in mind, the state's Offender Orientation Handbook was amended on April 1 to ban inmates from participating in society's online gabfest.

"Offenders within TDCJ do not have access to the Internet and are unable themselves to create or maintain a social media account while incarcerated," Clark told me. "When it's determined there is an active social media account in an offender's name, TDCJ will reach out to the company and request that account be taken down."

Clark told me that many social media companies specifically prohibit accounts run by third parties.

Some, though, are aghast at the new Texas rule.

"These pages are beyond important because this is how the average Joe finds out about the humanity of the people on death row," anti-death penalty activist Pat Hartwell told Fusion.

There is at least one essential problem.

If a Twitter or Facebook account is being run by an outside party, what right has any authority -- whether it's a prison or, for that matter, Facebook or Twitter -- from allowing them to do so?

Facebook and Twitter accounts exist for all kinds of reasons.

If, for example, Holocaust denial groups are still allowed on Facebook -- and they are -- why wouldn't people be allowed to run at least responsible sites on behalf of inmates?

Clark specifically referenced Facebook and Twitter as sites to which the Texas authorities will be appealing.

A Twitter spokesman told me that its Guidelines for Law Enforcement makes clear the terms upon which the site will agree to a request to take an account down. He said there had been 123 requests from Texas in the second half of 2015 for the removal of an account.

A Facebook spokesman told me: "We permit people to create pages in honor of other folks. However, we do not allow people to operate personal accounts on other people's behalf. This is true regardless of whether the person is in prison or not."

Perhaps, then, it is a question of honor. And honor is something for which many have their own definitions -- including, perhaps, Facebook.

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