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 @ 1:38pm

    Re:

    That's rare, the very first comment summed up the crux of the situation in two sentences.

    If the plaintiff gave the defendant parents an opportunity to fix the issue through non-legal matters, and was refused, that is EXACTLY what the defamation laws in this country are for.

    libel is defined as a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation. - oxford american dictionary

    cyber bullying is defined as the act of harassing someone online by sending or posting mean messages, usually anonymously. - dictionary.com

    so unless the content of the fake profile is proven to be true(and given that its a FAKE profile... good luck with that) its a textbook libel case. one that will probably end up in legal textbooks in future years.

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