Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
bullying, libel

Does It Makes Sense To Charge Kids & Their Parents With Libel For Online Bullying?

from the extreme-response dept

There's been lots of talk about what to do about online bullying -- even if the amount and impact of online bullying is often massively exaggerated. There have even been some attempts to outlaw online bullying or "cyberbullying" that seem to try to make it illegal to be a jerk online. These laws are of dubious legitimacy under the First Amendment.

However, it appears that one family has taken a different path to go after some online bullies. After discovering that some classmates in school set up a fake Facebook profile for a girl, they sued the kids who set up the page and their parents for libel. The student had apparently asked both the school and the police to do something about the fake page -- and in both cases they were (correctly) told that they couldn't do anything. The school couldn't get involved with off-campus speech (correct) and the police noted that no criminal laws appeared to have been broken (also correct). They also asked Facebook to take down the page, which didn't happen. That's the one that surprises me a bit. Considering Facebook's insistence on "real names" and such, you would think the company would respond relatively quickly to accusations of a fake page.

That said, is libel really the most reasonable response? It does appear that some of the statements made on the page were pretty obnoxious, and could potentially meet the bar for libel, but it's difficult to see how such a lawsuit helps anything. It did get Facebook to delete the page, so perhaps that accomplished the goal. But I can't imagine that filing lawsuits against other students helps make one more accepted in school. The fact is that kids can be obnoxious brats -- and it sounds like the kids who set up this fake Facebook page fit that description. But does that really need to be settled in court? Furthermore, suing the parents of the bullies because they paid for the internet access the kids used seems like a particularly ridiculous claim. Bullying sucks, but taking kids and their parents to court over a stupid fake Facebook profile seems like overkill in response.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2012 @ 12:54pm

    Although I can sympathize with the perceived loss of control over one's online identity, I think the public's right to satire and parody far outweighs my 'right' to not be made fun of. We can argue all day on whether a fake Facebook profile is satire, parody, stupid or none of the above, but you have to make a far leap to land at libelous. If the content is egregious enough that a court finds it libelous, then libel laws are already in place to handle it.

    If we allow the general public this kind of court-room power, what's to stop the real Steve Jobs (or heirs) from suing the Fake Steve Jobs into financial ruin? You're trying to tell me the owner of every fake Twitter account is guilty of libel and should be sued accordingly?

    Also, people are very quick to slap the 'bullying' label on any behavior they don't like that's directed at them. This does a disservice to actual bullying. Instead of working towards protecting vulnerable people from severe emotional and physical turmoil, we're dicking around in the court system because some bratty kids made a fake profile saying you smoke pot and hate black people. That's not bullying. It's called getting your balls busted and you need to go through it if you want to understand how to live in a country like the U.S..

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