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
    Danielle, 1 May 2012 @ 3:47pm

    Making fun of someone is saying thy have a big nose, or that they're fat. Why don't I publish in your local paper, knowing that it's false, that you're a racist and you have sex with your mom (or sister, or aunt, or cousin, or insert any relative male or female into this). Sure, you could say "meh, it's not me! No big deal!" but there will still be people who don't know you who think it is. It's there forever in the online version of the paper. So you might not care, but I'd certainly want my reputation protected if that happened to me. And no amount of "oh that! That's fake" would help me. I've had terrible bosses, this is different. I'd absolutely sue if someone published that i was a racist who slept with my brother. I'd never sue a bad boss (for typically dick-ish behavior. I'd still sue for assault, battery, sexual harassment, etc). Sorry if I have typos. I'm on my stupid phone.

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