A juvenile court erred in imposing an absolute ban on social media for a juvenile’s probation condition, a California appeals court ruled, reasoning that there could be very legitimate reasons why the minor would need to be on social media.

The appeals court modified the probation restriction by giving the minor’s probation officer the ability to monitor the minor’s social media usage.

L.O., the minor in question, committed battery upon another minor after walking home from school.  L.O. had four previous juvenile offenses, including a prior misdemeanor battery offense.   

The juvenile court imposed several probation conditions. One of them imposed a ban on the minor using social media, including Facebook.

It read: “The Minor shall not access or participate in any Social Networking Site, including but not limited to Facebook.com. All internet usage is subject to monitoring by Probation, parents or school officials.”

L.A. appealed several of the probation conditions to the California Court of Appeals, including the ban on social media.  The appeals court agreed with the minor on the social media ban in its September 26, 2018, decision in In Re L.O.   

The California appeals court relied in part on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Packingham v. North Carolina (2017), in which the high court struck down a state law that prohibited sex offenders from using social media.

In Packingham, the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of Internet communications and wrote that “to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.”

“In the early days of social media, a prohibition on using social networking sites may have passed constitutional muster,” the California appeals court wrote, “but Packingham announces that day has passed.”

However, the appeals court provided a fix to the problem, declaring that “all of Minor's internet usage, including  any use of social media, remains subject to monitoring by Probation, parents or school officials.”

David L. Hudson, Jr. is a Visiting Associate Professor of Legal Practice at Belmont University Law School.  He also is the author or co-author of several First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (2012).