Parents Not Responsible For Kids' Nasty Facebook Posts

from the computers-are-not-dangerous-weapons dept

Last year, we wrote about yet another misguided lawsuit filed about activity on Facebook. Apparently, a group of students at a high school in New York set up a private Facebook group which, in part, was used to make fun of another student (though only six students were members). The student who was the target somehow discovered the postings and sued the classmates for libel and sued the classmate's parents for not controlling their kids. She also sued Facebook, though it had an easy Section 230 out and was quickly dropped from the lawsuit. Thankfully, the judge has now dismissed both claims, noting that while the Facebook comments were "puerile attempts by adolescents to outdo each other," and while they displayed "an utter lack of taste and propriety, they do not constitute statements of fact," even though they made some factually false assertions. As the judge noted, even though they made such assertions no reasonable person would believe it. Perhaps my favorite part of the judgment:
A reasonable reader, given the overall context of the posts, simply would not believe that the Plaintiff contracted AIDS by having sex with a horse or a baboon or that she contracted AIDS from a male prostitute who also gave her crabs and syphilis, or that having contracted sexually transmitted diseases in such manner she morphed into the devil.
Indeed.

Perhaps more importantly, the judge totally dismissed the idea that the parents were somehow responsible for the kids' postings since it would require parents giving kids a "dangerous instrument" to make them negligent. The judge noted that it is ridiculous to conclude that a computer is a "dangerous instrument," and thus there is no parent liability here:
To declare a computer a dangerous instrument in the hands of teenagers in an age of ubiquitous computer ownership would create an exception that would engulf the rule against parental liability.
The judge notes that this case may involve "cyberbullying," but thankfully New York has no anti-cyberbullying laws, so being a jerk online may still be childish, but is hardly actionable legally speaking.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    TPBer, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    Computers are weapons..

    when i pick it up and throw it at you form making fun of me :D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:11pm

    Reasonable people

    A reasonable reader, given the overall context of the posts, simply would not believe that the Plaintiff contracted AIDS by having sex with a horse or a baboon

    He's absolutely right. Every reasonable person knows that when you have sex with a horse or a baboon, they'll always use protection.

    Unlike those slutty spider monkeys.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:29pm

    I don't understand how the parents aren't being held responsible...

    While the ruling may make sense in context, I don't understand how it is that the parent's aren't held accountable for their minor children? Doesn't this then also release the parents from the responsibility of parenting in general as well?

    Most of the issues we have in society today is that parents are held less and less accountable for the products of their parenting. Yet more and more people outside the family unit are held accountable for the parent's lack of parenting.

    Teachers not allowed to correct a child, even when that child is endangering other children, daycares held accountable for one child injuring another even when the parents have been repeatedly asked to handle the issues.

    Children killing people with guns parents didn't secure etc...

    There seems to be no consequences to the parents for raising their kids to ignore laws and not care who they hurt and kill yet noone is given the authority to prevent these same kids from doing these things....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Brian (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 2:50pm

      Re: I don't understand how the parents aren't being held responsible...

      Yes, how dare those parents not stand over their children and watch every word they speak into the inter tubes and control their speech and actions every step of the way from birth until adulthood.

      I do enjoy how you use examples of physical harm of others and try to set it up and compare it to children speaking in a private group on the internet because we all know words can break your bones just like sticks and stones or TPBer's computer :D

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Ron Rezendes (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 3:31pm

      Re: I don't understand how the parents aren't being held responsible...

      If you were a little more out of touch with your analogies we could watch you drift off into space!

      Exactly what action were you expecting to be taken here and what crime are you punishing?

      "The judge notes that this case may involve "cyberbullying," but thankfully New York has no anti-cyberbullying laws, so being a jerk online may still be childish, but is hardly actionable legally speaking"

      People raise kids who turn out to be jerks all the time - a handful of those kids end up here on TD whining about why parents aren't being held responsible for their kids who act like jerks!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Jennifer Williams, Oct 10th, 2010 @ 6:18pm

      Re: I don't understand how the parents aren't being held responsible...

      Finally an argument I can say AMEN too! Parents need to be held accountable for things their minor kids do! Does that judge mean to say that if a minor steals the family car and proceeds to either kill someone or cause property damage that the parents would not be accountable? That's crap. Too many kids nowadays do and say the things they do cause there's no one around to say - Hey that's not nice or that's not the right thing to do. No one holds them accountable for their own actions therefore kids never feel the consequences of their behavior. They don't even have the ability to recognize when they've caused someone else pain and if they do they don't care, to some they think it's funny. I'm doing a research paper on cyberbullying - it's sickening, absolutely sickening. And for a judge to tell a minor child that they just have to ignore what's posted shows the ignorance on the judge's part about the psyche of adolescents. I know kids try to look tough and that they have it altogether but if you ever sat down to talk to one face to face about the things they face every day you just might find one that will open up cry for hours as the tough exterior comes crashing down.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Michial Thompson, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    I don't understand

    Brian, I also love how you overlook the part that I say that in this case in context it's understandable...

    I speak generally that by not holding the parents accountable for their childrens actions we are creating way more issues. If thos actions are physical, virbal, or written it makes little difference. The parents are the ones responsible for raising the child, and if they raise a socially unacceptable child then they should be held accountable for that child until he is of legal action to be held accountable for his own actions.

    The laws are such that a child is essentially given a clean slate at 18 years old for most of their actions, and this makes a lot of sense because as kids we all do stupid crap. BUT this clean slate is often wiping away a long history of actions that indicate a track record that just doesn't magically disappear with the locked up records.

    Parents are more and more frequently pushing off parenting responsibilities on others, law enforcement and teachers to name just a couple. Yet when someone holds their kids accountable for their actions then their actions are just dismissed as kids being kids....

    I understand that the schoolyard bully has always been there and will always be there, and that school yard has now extended to the internet and social sites etc. The problem with this is that physical or virtual actions of this bully is going less and less checked and becoming more and more socially acceptable.

    In the past the bullies actions could be checked somewhat by a teacher grabbing the brat by the arm and dragging him into the office, or through suspensions etc. Now that the schoolground as expanded to the net, not only is the teacher and school absolutely powerless to keep these actions in check, the actions are then rewarded through increased hits from outside the schoolyard and around the world that then implies it's funny and encourages more of the activity.

    I don't see any illegal activity in "creatively" describing someone, I do it all the time. aka "little mikee m." But at some point someone has to be allowed to keep things in check, and increasingly this isn't the case. When the bully was on the schoolgrounds things were in check by the teachers, other parents etc... now there is no balance.

    In all honesty, I'd rather have a kid claiming someone got aids by boning a donkey over the kid pulling one of the increasingly dangerous physical pranks on the kid. I'd rather see the parent's be held accountable for their kids actions in both cases.

    The problem is that the parent's aren't held accountable, and the kid goes unchecked and unpunished and things get worse. The difference now with the internet though is that it's the geeky kid that used to get bullied on the school grounds that's now online being the bully.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Joe Responsible, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 10:53am

      Re: I don't understand

      Thing is I see that as a social problem more than a legal one. I can agree that it's bad that we don't always hold parents responsible for jerk kids, but unless the act is criminal (and not just stupid Facebook trash-talk) should we be legally punishing parents for the acts of a dumb kid?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    interval (profile), Jul 27th, 2010 @ 4:08pm

    @Michial Thompson: "But at some point someone has to be allowed to keep things in check..."

    Every time I read or hear some one say something like: "There must be control." I just roll my eyes. You're talking about Sticks and Stones in this scenario. While I was growing up when I got in a fight in school over something some one said about me and was sent home my parents almost invariably recited the "stick and stones" argument, I hopefully don't need to recite it; in essence it says that all the name calling in the world isn't going to hurt you, get back to me when a kid larger than you slugs you.

    Now we live in an age where entire groups are hiding behind this precept of "political correctness" and name calling is actionable. Its ridiculous. Its as if the children who came up after me had parents who never heard this and were raised to have extremely thin skins, or place a high value on something I normally consider very shaky ground. It would also explain how many (younger) people seem to expect that their reputations are bestowed upon them at birth, and are easily tarnished. I was raised to believe that a reputation is earned. Its a very flimsy facade to live your life under.

    So who gets to call these shots? Who gets to control these "horrible" name calling incidents on the internet, and by what guide do they rate the incidents? What rates a "not so bad" rating, and what rates as "a bloody massacre in written form that brings on shock and horror" in its readers and therefore requires the full weight of legal action??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 29th, 2010 @ 1:19am

      Re: "political correctness"

      "Now we live in an age where entire groups are hiding behind this precept of "political correctness" and name calling is actionable"

      OK I am going to repeat myself again, sorry.

      Acceptable Stigma-less Social Hate Absent Terminology
      Or ASSHAT for Short

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Clueby4, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 6:24pm

    Judge's unspoken suggestion

    Fight fire with fire\Create your own FB not-quite-libel group.

    Perhaps the kid should create a page for the Judge, as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    jjray, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 7:38am

    parent liability

    If your kid is known to be dangerous to others, I'm willing to accept a parent has some responsibility to attempt to control that child's actions. But this was a weak case for such a theory. A far, far better case could have been made against the parents of the kids who committed the murders in the Columbine case. How could the parent's not know that their kids had assembled a dangerous arsenal of weapons? In this case, not only are no facts given a prior history of danger to other kids but we are talking about posts on facebook. A kid typing at a computer does not raise parental suspicion. Is the law going to require parents to stand over the computer when the kid is online? Not practical. This is different than the case in Missouri a few years back where the parent participated with her own child in bullying another kid online (MySpace). The bullied kid eventually committed suicide. There is also a Massachusetts case of cyberbullying (Facebook) that lead to suicide. It's a serious issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This