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. icon
    AzureSky (profile), 1 May 2012 @ 2:34pm


    Im more a fan of social justice, and in this case, that means that the people responsible(kids who made the page) are publicly shamed.

    after reading your blog on this, I agree to a point, but also, teen age boys(And girls even) talk alot of smack, 90+% of it is just that, taking smack, if you cant learn to deal with it, how are you going to deal with that really annoying boss or co-worker you runinto later....

    I admit, your very unlikley to get anything close to the comments made by those teen boys in the adult world, BUT you can get things that are just as....offensive to an adult, tho veiled far more(in some ways, you gotta admit, teens and kids are far more honest and forthright then adults, rather then obfuscate their words, they just say what they are thinking, even if their language points out clear deficiencies in their vocabular education.

    In many ways, I wish more people where like that, say what you mean, even if its blunt and rude...

    but then again, i grew rhino/hippo skin, so that kinda thing dosnt bother me....had a guy call up yesterday and curse me out for 5 strait minutes becase we turned him over to collections on a 4 year old bill he refused to respond to....he got even madder when i started laughing at his tirade...

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