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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Danielle, 1 May 2012 @ 3:13pm

    The article also doesn't relay nearly enough facts. The family (and multiple people on their behalf contacted Facebook and reported the page as fake. It stayed up for 11 months. The bullies changed the privacy settings on it so Alex an people associated with her couldn't see it, but it still remained up. The Boston attorneys warned Alex and her family that filing could be a tough road, warned them that she could face more torment and to wait a few months to see how she felt. Thy took that advice. They filed just under the one year statute of limitations. From what I understand she must pretty much be done or close to done with 8th grade now.

    So the bullies (and theoretically) their parents knew about this. It was an ongoing issue. The page was up for 11 months, despite repeated reports to Facebook (who only took it down after the lawsuit was filed). And at the very least the privacy setting were updated to keep Alex off and unaware of what was going on on the page. Sounds to me like they were trying to keep it out of the court and that didn't work.

    All this came from the Boston lawyer who was on the radio this morning (q100 Atlanta).

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.