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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    A Guy (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:23pm

    Did she reach out to the other parents first?

    If she did and the page wasn't taken down, it's absolutely appropriate.

     

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      Machin Shin (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:28pm

      Re:

      I actually kind of find myself agreeing. The way the social media is today, someone making a fake account with your name could cause you untold amounts of trouble. This case was a kid being a brat, but it sets a president for future that stealing someones identity should not be tolerated.

       

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        Jesse (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 1:53pm

        Re: Re:

        How about fraud or identity theft? Just because the kid was making any money off it doesn't mean it's not damaging.

        If I made a Mike Masnick profile and convinced a ton of people that I'm you, you'd probably have a case against me.

        (I'm not talking about parody accounts that are obviously fake.)

         

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      GMacGuffin (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:29pm

      Re:

      Exactly. If all other possible remedies are exhausted without result, sometimes it takes a lawsuit to show folks you really really mean it.

      $5 says the suit is dismissed before too long.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:29pm

      Re:

      I agree. In the age of potential employers checking social media of candidates (public things, I don't want to get into debate about "give me your password" etc.) it isn't just a "stupid fake Facebook profile".

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:42pm

      Re:

      I was reading this about this on ars yesterday and I believe they did reach out the parents and the other kids parents didn't do anything either.

       

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      PRMan, May 1st, 2012 @ 1:36pm

      Re:

      Agree. The way to beat a bully is to stand up for yourself. Nobody helped me at school when I was the smallest and thinnest kid. I had to take care of business by winning fights with sheer tenacity. I never started anything but I finished a few.

      Suing the parents stands up to the bullying just fine and sounds like the parents did the right thing. Go parents!

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 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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    AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:31pm

    people need to grow a pair

    Let me preface this with my background.

    I grew up a pudgy, red haired geek, I got "bullied" and teased constantly, Did I cry to my parents every time it happened( or ever)....nope, because the fact was, even the popular kids got teased....everybody gets shit from somebody in school.

    I really feel that learning to deal with assholes/jerks when I was a kid better prepared me for adult life, Among other things I learned to laugh off people insulting me and tying to goad me into a fight.

    I learned to not care what others thought of me, and to give as good as I got, again everybody gets shit in school and sorry I have to point this out but in adult life you still have to deal with those kind of people.

    once you learn to not care what others think of you, you find its quite freeing you nolonger get worked up over little things.

    My advice to parents of kids being teased/bullied at school, teach your kids to grow thicker skin, to give as good as they get, it will better prepare them for life then if you try and shelter them so when they enter the real world they are shocked at how mean people are and endup coming home and crying over how somebody at work was mean to them.....

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:36pm

      Re: people need to grow a pair

      Suing their asses seems like a good way to "give as good as they get" to me.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:53pm

        Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

        *sigh*

        That statement disturbs me very, very deeply.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 1:25pm

          Re: Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

          I forgot my /troll

           

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            AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

            sad thing is, many people will take your statement as serious and may follow suet.

            I get tired of this nanny state bullshit, and I am liberal on most things(but not A dem or repug), this coddling of people who have easily hurt feelings needs to end....

            I think most of us likely grew up in public schools or even private schools where "bullying" (teasing) was a fact of life, and we didnt cry to our parents that "billy is making fun of me" we just delt with it and learned to adapt.

            I was watching a video recently about "bullying" and 99% of it was teasing, not even what was called bullying when i was in school....no swirlies, no ganging up and cornering somebody to scare them...just teasing and stuff like getting hit with spitwads....(like that really hurts....)

            if kids cant take that, its time to put them in diapers and baby mitts.....

             

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            John Fenderson (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:47pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

            Ah! It's a sad commentary on the quality of trolling here that it's so difficult to parody them.

             

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            G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:11am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

            Now there is an idea for a Techdirt T-shirt

            "I got my troll on at Techdirt"

             

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      Machin Shin (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:51pm

      Re: people need to grow a pair

      I agree that kids need to just get over being bullied and get thinker skin in most cases. The issue I see here though is that this is not someone calling you names. They set up a fake facebook account. In this day and age a fake facebook account in your name could be VERY damaging.

      Being picked on in school is one thing. Having people do something that could cause you to not get jobs in the future and so on is a lot more than simple teasing.

       

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        AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

        back in the day it was fake notes from people and writing on bathroom walls, sure it wasnt as public but, it was just as "damaging" to the persons ego as this is.

        the fact is, any employer whos not a total moron will see the fake page and dismiss it either as being a kids page(shes 14, 7th grade, not like facebook will be a big deal by the time she enters the serious job market)

        I have sat in on a few discussions about hiring where they talked about having looked athe persons myspace page, the funny thing is, for the most part, everybody dismissed the myspace page because, myspace is dead....as facebook will be once the next big thing comes out to replace it.

        if it was 1. real, and 2. an adults page, I could see this as a valid case, but in this case, I think the girl just needs to ignore it, fact is, very few people will think its real once she makes it clear its not her, infact, its very likely the kids doing it would start to be looked on with contempt if she dealth with it in an adult manner, rather then freaking out and trying to get the cops/school to solve her problems for her.

        our society looks at anything and everything as an excuse to sue or get somebody arrested/fired/expelled.....very childish if you ask me....

        the kids doing it are not in the right, they are childish little pratts, but, again they are kids, best move she could make would be to make it clear(calmly) that its not her facebook page, and just say stuff like "ha ha very funny" when they put rude stuff up, the fun would go away and they would stop their nonsense if she didnt react in the way they desired(freaking out)

        you ask how i know this, I have been on both sides, people harass me, so i would do it back, but only till it stopped being fun, when it stops being fun is when you nolonger get the reaction you desire out of the target.

         

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        Anonymous Cowered, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 11:05am

        applicants' 'reputation'

        "credit reports" were the precedent for employer stupidity.

        the credit reporting folks are confused or habitual prevaricators.
        their facts conflict with their facts.
        so why would any employer refer to 'credit reports'?

        i seem to be digressing, but a facebook-based 'reputation' is even "more worthless".

         

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      Baldaur Regis (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 1:14pm

      Re: people need to grow a pair

      I agree with everything you say; it's the way I was brought up also. But I have to ask: what is it like to currently be a seventh-grader living in 2013 America? The world, and our responses to it, change from generation to generation.

      What I find profoundly remarkable about this suit, and what leads me to believe this girls' parents are using it for teaching, is who they are not suing: the school, the police, Facebook, or anybody with serious money. In other words, how hard did they have to hammer on their lawyer that this whole thing was not about money?

       

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        AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: people need to grow a pair

        for all we know the families being sued do have money and dont have huge banks of lawyers on retainer to counter sue.

        and if you watch some of the videos they use to talk about how horrible bullying is now days, its nothing compared to when I was in school(and likely when you where in school) its mostly verbal teasing and online teasing.

        I would have been happy to have the level of teasing/harassment knocked down to that level when i was in school...honestly...

        what I have to wonder is, hows this going to really help?

        its very likely the girl will be shunned even more, for fear that if you make fun of her or upset her your family will get sued.

        hows that gonna help her?

        make her even more lonely and outcast?

        I mean I feel for the girl, not only is she being made sport of, shes also letting it get to her and her parents clearly arent teaching her coping skills, instead they are teaching her to sue...

        I see a future for this girl of sueing employers because they where "mean" to her...

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 11:07am

          less real bullying now?

          I doubt that 'cyberbullying' has motivated real life bullies to restrain themselves.

           

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      Anonymous Cowered, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 10:56am

      Re: people need to grow a pair

      or...
      we could encourage civilized behavior amongst adults and children.

      this Reagan-era social fashion of offensive behavior has motivated most people to reject multi-unit housing. the majority of single-unit occupants aren't qualified to maintain (dislike performing maintenance, anyway) their housing. this incurs huge economic cost (there are other costs) of the politically correct culture of antagonism.

       

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    Eric Goldman (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    I've argued that these situations would be better handled through restorative justice. http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2011/05/cyberbullying_a.htm Eric.

     

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      GMacGuffin (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:53pm

      Re:

      Restorative Justice could still work in this case. Having gotten the FB page removed as desired, parties could take it out of court into restorative justice ADR - staying the case pending resolution so nobody forgets there's a lawsuit and blows the restorative part off.

      But then, we just learned what a pirate apologist you are, so how can we trust your opinion on a totally unrelated subject? [Emoticon]

       

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        G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:24am

        Re: Re:

        Well pirates do have a form of ADR called parley ;)

        Why do I instantly have an image of Eric in a Jack Sparrow costume wondering where the Rum has gone LOL

         

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

      Re:

      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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      G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:22am

      Re:

      ADR should always be the first avenue in any of these sort of civil suits, in fact in Australia ADR is being more and more mandated before certain civil cases can go further. Especially in the Family Law courts (divorce, custody, child care etc)

      To me this one smacks of the parents of the children who made the page being part of the problem especially with the original parents reaching out to them.

      Though when all you have left is a blunt instrument like defamation (which is costly to all) and you are trying to protect your own child, then you use everything at your disposal.

       

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    Chris ODonnell (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    If more parents were forced to take responsibility for their kid's actions there might be fewer obnoxious bullies in the school to cause problems.

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:45pm

      Re: Nevarr!

      What?!

      American parents taking responsibility for the children's actions?

      Nevar!!

      /troll

      I thought today's standards called for pawning off all parental obligations onto the school/"justice" systems...

       

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        AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:40pm

        Re: Re: Nevarr!

        you know its effectivly illegal to punish your kids now days, they say anything you do could cause perminant psycic damage to the child.

        spanking= physical abuse.

        grounding= social and mental abuse.

        sitting kid in the corner= same as above.

        you cant even scold your kid in public because somebody will call the cops.....

        our society has become retarded......

        IMHO the best fix for these problems would be to follow what Robert A. Heinlein puts down in starship troopers, for serious childhood infractions both the kid and parent get "Flogged" (like a kaining) in public, for minor but serious infractions, you get a spanking, even in school, I know when i was in elementary school that was still allowed, never done but the threat of it kept kids in line.

        for most situations like this, you need to let the kids involved work things out on their own and encourage them to figure out solutions to their own problems, rather then bring the law into it....again I feel for this girl, shes going to endup being even more of an out cast then she apparently already is....

         

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          Niall (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 7:25am

          Re: Re: Re: Nevarr!

          Oh yes, because wanton physical abuse is *so* instructive...

          Part of the trouble with physical solutions is there is always someone who abuses it.

           

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            A Guy (profile), May 3rd, 2012 @ 12:38pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Nevarr!

            Agreed.

            What happens when you hit a dog to teach it? It learns to hate and/or fear people. It may not bite you, but it is much more likely to bite the neighbor kid.

            There are ways to be responsible without damaging the children involved.

             

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          Anonymous Cowered, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 11:26am

          Re: Re: Re: Nevarr!

          grounding= social and mental abuse.
          sitting kid in the corner= same as above.

          "cite(!)" Find just one of those strange news (Florida faceeating is the new tree-TPing) outlier examples. I know this is not a norm. I've never heard of this. It looks derived from one of those fauxnews "perentill rites! soshelless union penshin teechur moral relitivismz are stopping me my god givvin rites to beeting my kid with lumbar!" tea tales.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:18pm

      Re:

      I doubt many parents can take responsibility alone, most houses have both parents working long hours and this is not something that changed over a hundred years.

      The one things about children I do understand is that they copy their surroundings so is either the parents or the community they are inserted in that is the problem.

      Another problem is that once it gets to that point, you can't start over, that behavior is hardwired in their brains already and it would take a decade or more to change it to become the norm.

      Here is what people teach to kids these days.
      http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/self_control.html

      Don't pay attention to the instructions but the timeline, people know that education is something that happens over time and so every tip you get will be about how to do it from an early age for the start of the conditioning.

      Yes those instructions could work, but why it fails most of the time?
      It fails because kids copy the behavior of their parents or communities they are inserted in, if your mouth say one thing and your acts say another, acts are louder than words.

      And here is the hard part, most people can't view their own flaws and they get angry at people who point those out, so they don't correct that and thus are unable to teach anything different to a child.

      When a child constantly behaves badly that is a failure of society, the entire enviroment failed, so not only the parents should take responsibility by others too.

      Would you like to be forced to watch everything others do?

       

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        AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:40pm

        Re: Re:

        when i was a kid, my father worked long hours and off and on my mother worked long hours.

        heres the thing when they where around they punished me when i deserved it and gave me accolades when i deserved it.

        When I did something really stupid or really broke the rules, i got spanked(not beat, spanked theres a difference)

        guess what, it worked, I also learned to stand up for myself and to let peoples stupidity and cruelty roll off me like watter off a ducks back.

        the problem today is society dosnt want you to punish your kids but then is upset that kids have no idea of boundaries and rules, no self control.

        again I agree, society is to blame, and its only going to get worse....because now even timeouts are being called abuse....

        and nobody seems to want to teach their kids to have thick skin anymore.

         

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        Anonymous Cowered, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 11:33am

        Re: Re:

        +10 recommending early attention.

        adults have always worked long hours. but modern jobs separate the parents from the kids.
        even when daycare is nearby, i suspect "out of sight >> out of mind" causes less parental interaction.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    perhaps a 'name and shame approach would have worked, particularly if accompanied by a 'you never know, your kid could be next!'

     

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    Deirdre (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:44pm

    At least they didn't try to charge the other kids with identity theft. Shame the teen and parents had to go this far to get the page taken down. I would be as much disturbed by the imputation of racist beliefs in the Youtube video as anything. That's something that could turn around and bite the kid a few years later when she is looking for a job.

    If the kids who did this are minors then parents are responsible for their actions in Georgia, at least up to $10,000 damage. That's how the parents got in there.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:45pm

    First off, my funny of the day: Honestly, if they made being a jerk online illegal, Techdirt would have to shut down. Most people I have suggested read this site get that feeling. Not relevant to the discussion... but just a funny comment.

    Now for the meat and potatoes: Mike, you are the one who gets upset when people tack "on the internet" onto something and claim a patent. I get upset when people tack "on the internet" onto a crime, and expect it no longer to be a crime.

    How does that go? Well, let's drop the technology for a second. If someone purchased a full page ad in a newspaper, represented themselves as someone else, and made false, misleading, dishonest, or nasty statements on that page, would they have not committed a crime? Would there not be libel here? Would it not create prejudice against the person in question?

    Forget the "on the internet" and start paying attention to the reality. The whole thing makes much more sense.

     

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      techflaws.org (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:58am

      Re:

      Most people I have suggested read this site get that feeling

      That's almost as convincing as "Mike, noone takes you seriously anyway" while shills constantly keep defending their corporate masters with their inane rants and whinings.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:46pm

    First off, my funny of the day: Honestly, if they made being a jerk online illegal, Techdirt would have to shut down. Most people I have suggested read this site get that feeling. Not relevant to the discussion... but just a funny comment.

    Now for the meat and potatoes: Mike, you are the one who gets upset when people tack "on the internet" onto something and claim a patent. I get upset when people tack "on the internet" onto a crime, and expect it no longer to be a crime.

    How does that go? Well, let's drop the technology for a second. If someone purchased a full page ad in a newspaper, represented themselves as someone else, and made false, misleading, dishonest, or nasty statements on that page, would they have not committed a crime? Would there not be libel here? Would it not create prejudice against the person in question?

    Forget the "on the internet" and start paying attention to the reality. The whole thing makes much more sense.

     

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    WysiWyg (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:50pm

    Sure the school could have done something!

    "The school couldn't get involved with off-campus speech (correct) [...]"

    This I don't agree with. The school could, and should, have handled this. Talk to the kids responsible, and if that doesn't work their parents.

     

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      cjstg (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Sure the school could have done something!

      so are you saying that the school should come into students' homes and monitor what they are doing?

      unless school resources are used or teachers are named, the school has no business in this, period.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 1:19pm

        Re: Re: Sure the school could have done something!

        Did any of the kids access facebook while at school? If so then it is the schools business. At least as it related to that kid on twitter that we read about who posted at like 2 am but accessed twitter at school.

         

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          AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:52pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sure the school could have done something!

          all i can guess is the kids knew not to update that facebook accts info/make posts from it at school, I do think the school should have brought them all into a room and had a talk and they very well may have, but thats not gonna stop jerk kids from being jerk kids or crybaby kids from crying to mommy and daddy about people being mean to them.

          the fact is, theres no fix for the problems caused by people interacting with each other outside not letting them interact with anybody.

          In cases like this, social justice is the best fix, the girl, if she had handled this correctly herself could have made to so that this wasnt fun for the kids doing it, she could have made it so that rather then her being the object of ridicule the ones making the posts where the subject of ridicule.

          once you learn to not give a crap about other peoples opinion of you and their attempts to upset you, you gain a freedom and centering that can and will serve you well threw out out life.

          once you learn to think logically about such things you can find ways to deal with idiots like the ones making fun of her that dont involve legal action or physical violance, but instead involve making them the object of scorn and ridicule.

          when I was in school myspace was big(the facebook of its day) as where yahoo chat and some others where lots of people at the school hung out, back then if people harassed you online, you just delt with it, you didnt go running to the teacher or mommy/daddy, very few kids resorted to that when i was in HS, and those that did for the most part ended up with their parents telling them to grow thicker skin...only once did i ever see a parent threaten legal action, and it was over a LIE her own daughter was telling about being sexually harassed, when the full story came out, the girl(Who was trying to cause problems for a teacher and a slew of students) ended up being ostracized, she had no friends to speak of, nobody would even look at her or talk to her....even teachers ignored her...

          social justice at work....

           

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          aldestrawk (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 5:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sure the school could have done something!

          A distinction should be made in how school officials can react. Certainly a school should have a program that teaches about bullying (what constitutes bullying, what motivates bullying, and how it can be handled). They could even hold discussions in response to a particular incident. The school is not responsible for a students actions outside of school or school sponsored events. Schools should not usurp the parents authority. When a public school is in session, school officials have a role as a surrogate for the parents or as an extension of the state. Punishing speech or behavior occurring outside of school is beyond their jurisdiction. Perhaps the best response is to inform the parents of any instigator and arrange a conference if the parents agree.

          How far does the schools responsibility and authority extend? If a student accesses Facebook from school using the school equipment and internet connection, clearly the school has authority. What if the access is from a students phone during lunch break? What if the student accesses Facebook from a phone while walking or riding home or to the local fast-food joint? The answer to these questions apply not just to bullying behavior but also in the same way to any sort of speech.

          In addition to location, let's look at ownership of equipment as a factor in determining the schools authority.
          Austin Carroll, the Indiana high school student who was expelled for a profane tweet did this from his home. He used a school issued laptop which was configured to use a school server as a proxy in accessing the internet. After logging in to the school website, which is the home page upon launching the browser, he had access to the internet which appeared to him exactly the same as just going through his local ISP connection. The school claims that their ownership of the laptop and forced routing through the school network gives them the authority to censor his speech as if he was physically at school. Is it enough ownership to claim authority if Austin had used the school laptop and avoided going through the school's network? Would the same logic apply if he used a school issued pencil to write an objectionable sentence? My feeling is schools should only get involved if speech occurs at school or a school sponsored function and, if applicable, using school owned equipment.

          When a student is not at school he or she has them same free speech rights as anyone else (I am disregarding, for now, the parents say in the matter). There is no restriction on what people this speech is in reference to. They can talk about teachers, school officials, and other students. The school has no authority here even if the speech rises to libel or slander. The school can, of course, contact law enforcement or the parents playing the role of informer or counselor. Teachers do not have the same freedom, as they have a responsibility to maintain the privacy of students and are subject to restrictions that any other government employee would have.

           

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        WysiWyg (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:06am

        Re: Re: Sure the school could have done something!

        Wowa, that was one hell of a leap you did there! Ever tried out for the olympics?

        And since you put that "period" at the end there, obviously you are Right, and I am wrong. It's not like the school is the logical choice since that's where the kids meet, and because they are the ones who could most easily stop this madness. No, you said "period", so therefore the school has no business in this. I stand corrected.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 2:49pm

      Re: Sure the school could have done something!

      Yep the school could have done that, but not in an official capacity.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 12:50pm

    Psychopaths And Sociopaths

    Aren't all bullies either psychopaths (persons without a conscience) or sociopaths (persons whose conscience is very weak and easily influenced by their ego or self-interest)? Hitting them with a libel suit may be a way to get their self-interest involved in the situation, without having to rely on their defective or non-existent consciences.

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:59pm

      Re: Psychopaths And Sociopaths

      not really, many are just kids trying to fit in, they do what they do because they are stupid, they want to fit in with their peer group, they think its cool(many even feel bad about it after they do it..)

      very few people are true sociopaths or psychopaths, some are, and some carry that bully attidue into adulthood, where most loose it as they get older.

      a couple good examples are people I went to HS with.

      one was a guy who use to harass me endlessly and relentlessly, it didnt bother me, and i gave as good as i got, but he saw me one day in the parking lot at safeway(grocery store) and called my name and came over and apologized he was quite sincere and even took me out for lunch and we talked, had some laughs...hes turned into a good guy.

      on the other hand there was this guy who use to do little dirty underhanded things to try and get people in trouble and who liked to bully people, He now works for his uncle at a local hardware/building supply store, he STILL tries to bully and intimidate people, the reason he works for uncle is that nobody else will hire him, hes been fired from every job hes had, he also has been in jail multi times for his actions....

      his uncle and family are good people, hes just truely a sociopath(he knows what hes doing is wrong, just dosnt care that its wrong)

      that said, i doubt these kids are really either, most likely they are just doing this to get attention, if that went away they would stop because it wouldnt be fun anymore...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 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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      cjstg (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 1:00pm

      Re:

      one of the defining measures of satire is the concept that it is apparent that it is satire. not sure if this was the case here.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 1:17pm

        Re: Re:

        I agree that this case might not be satire. However, the best satire is indistinguishable from genuine rhetoric. When part of your audience is up in arms over it, you know you've done it correctly.

         

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        Cowardly Anonymous, May 1st, 2012 @ 4:39pm

        Re: Re:

        You are confusing satire and parody.

         

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    Lowestofthekeys (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 1:05pm

    I'm a fan of that kid in Australia who body slammed his bully.

    Maybe legislation for mandatory body slamming in response to bullying is necessary?

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:02pm

      Re:

      I taught a friends kid how to "deal with" his bullies at school, pretty funny, after 1 run-in with pain and ridicule they stopped targeting him...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 1:45pm

    If the other parents didn't make their kid take the page down I think they should be held liable. In general I think parents need more exposure to liability for their kid's actions, especially for repeat offences by children in the 4 - 14 age range.

    1st offence, punish the kid,
    2nd punish the kid, slap the parents,
    3rd whack those parents down.

    More to the point with this one it makes sense that parents should be accountable somehow, especially if they won't do anything about their child.

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:05pm

      Re:

      what can they do in our current system?

      punishment of any kid is viewed as some form of abuse.

      spanking: physical abuse

      grounding: social and mental abuse

      taking away their tv/videogames: mental abuse

      making them stand in the corner(or sit in the corner) mental abuse(And social abuse if anybody else sees it)

      I mean, I agree, Parents should parent and should be able to punish their kids.....but when anything you do could lead to your kids being wards of the state and you being in jail.....

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    If society were to get out of the families personal business and allow the parents to discipline their children then and only then can I see the parents having some responsibilities for the actions of their kids.
    Some children need more than just a time out. But god forbid you spank a child and the world comes down on the parents for child abuse.
    But when society condones the police handcuffing six year olds because the school is not allowed to punish an unruly child then it becomes the providence of society to deal with bad kids.

     

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    Danielle, May 1st, 2012 @ 2:18pm

    The bullies in this case created the fake page that had racist, explicitly sexual and violent things posted as if Alex Boston had said them. She found out b/c kids at school were asking her why she posted those things. Publishing statements you know are false that damage reputation...how could this NOT be libel? This isn't a case of "kids being kids" or "grow a thicker skin, whimp!" this is someone's honest reputation, child or not, being damaged. And the intenet never forgets. I'm sure it's cached forever and both sides have screenshots and records. This will always come up under her name? Someone explain to me how she's not being brave suing those dumbasses and their dumbass parents?

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:18pm

      Re:

      the girl could have delt with the fake page by making a real one and/or just making it clear that wasnt her page.

      I bet she could even have gotten the school to announce it wasnt her real facebook page if it was as big an issue as all that.

      shes being STUPID for suing if you ask me, this will just lead to her having LESS people willing to have anything to do with her.

      heres an example from my own life a few years back.

      we had a woman working at the place I worked, she seemed like a nice girl, kinda shy but polite and kind, she mostly took calls and did paperwork/filing, in an area of the company that was mostly women( I was tech support so i was around alot fixing printers and such)

      she sued a coworker for sexual harassment because he had the gaul to point out that one of her tata's had slipped part way out of her bra, no, im not kidding that was the whole case, she also sued the company, she kept the job but was very upset NOBODY wanted to talk to or be around her without it being on the company audio/visual servileness system. and even then it was always a turse interaction.

      none of us wanted to risk being sued, the company settled the case and part of the settlement was they couldnt fire her.....(i read it, it was a bad settlement but cheaper then fighting it in court)

      she couldnt understand why nobody wanted anything to do with her....was very upset about it....

      note: the guy she sued was not only one of the kindest nicest least sexist people you could ever hope to meet, he was also very very gay(zero interest in women)

      all shes going to endup with is even less friends and more people talkin smack about her.....

      yeah it was wrong for them to do this, and yes somebody could find it years from now, but guess what, most employers who look at these things will be far more willing to accept "that page is fake" if its in your attached cover letter or a simple note you attach.

      also, very few employers I have worked for would take a jr.high blog/myspace/facebook page as anything but the rantings of a child....if it was an adults page or late highschool, that could be different, but. shes 14 and 7th grade, i really doubt anybody will care by the time she enters the work force.

      and god help her when she enters the job market...she will be suing employers and coworkers left and right over being mean to her.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:37pm

      Re:

      No this is exactly what kids do, they try to harm each other just for the LoLz, they are impressively machiavellic at that age even more so if the whole enviroment they are in is like that.

      More I am sure she did something to trigger this on the others, and depending on what it was she may not be so innocent either.

      I don't think this has anything to do with courage, courage is when you know something bad could happen to you and you do it anyways, if you are faced with death but risk your life for something you want, there is no courage in using force others force to punish people you don't like, in that sense she is being as coward as others may have been to her.

       

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        techflaws.org (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 2:14am

        Re: Re:

        More I am sure she did something to trigger this on the others, and depending on what it was she may not be so innocent either.

        "She wore that dress, your honor" said the rapist. Completely understandable excuse.

         

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    Brian Schroth (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 2:35pm

    Analogy to rape

    Mike, I've never understood why you seem to oppose every libel claim no matter how legitimate. Here's how your logic would work in another case...

    "Is filing rape charges really the most reasonable response? It does appear that the accused may have had sex with her against her will, and could potentially meet the bar for a rape charge, but it's difficult to see how such a charge helps anything. I can't imagine that filing charges against other people helps make her feel any better. The fact is that men can be violent -- and it sounds like the man who she is accusing of raping her fit that description. But does that really need to be settled in court?"

    Maybe this will make things worse for her. Maybe it will make her less accepted at school. Maybe it will cost her family money. But it will teach her and everyone else the valuable lesson that bullies can and should be stood up to. And it will provide some semblance of justice.

     

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      khory, May 1st, 2012 @ 4:24pm

      Re: Analogy to rape

      Did you really just compare making a fake FB page to sexual assault?

       

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      Rikuo (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 3:13am

      Re: Analogy to rape

      You're comparing a potentially libelous situation where harm may or may not occur (the worst harm I can see is if everyone believes the FB account is real and she's socially stigmatized)...with RAPE, where a victim is assaulted and forced to have sex against their will?
      You're disgusting. I know all about rape, two of my sisters were raped as kids. To compare setting up a face FB page with rape...god, you need help.

       

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    Jim G., May 1st, 2012 @ 2:36pm

    This is a more complex issue than a lot of Techdirt threads. I don't think it's enough to say "I put up with spitballs in gym class, so this kid has to put up with a fake Facebook account in her name."

    This is an excellent example of the problems with communication over the internet. The kids who set it up did not see how Alex Boston reacted emotionally when she saw the fake page. In person you can see if the other person is just a little upset, or bursts into tears. It's much easier to do something with no idea how the other person is responding. This isn't a flaw in the technology, but it does lend itself to hurt feelings and flamewars.

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:24pm

      Re:

      im quite sure had she not reacted at all or only by saying the page was fake and who made it, they wouldnt have kept doing it, because wheres the fun in teasing/harassing somebody who wont react?

      again, I have delt with this kind of thing most of my life, kids are stupid and cruel, but, the thing is, acting that way isnt fun when you cant see the reaction.

      wheres the motivation to keep going for months let alone years if the person dosnt react in a negative way?

      again, its all about how you react to stuff like this, there are many ways to react to disarm the situation, to make it "not fun" for the people doing it, this isnt one of them, if anything this very likely will have the opposite effect, she will be even more ostracized and lonely.....because who wants to risk upsetting somebody and getting sued.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    I have to side with the parents on this. Shame on the other parents, shame on the school, and the biggest shame of all on Facebook!

     

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    Danielle, May 1st, 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).

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:28pm

      Re:

      they could have just deleted the page and walked away, but, there must have been something inspiring them to keep it going, she had to be giving them something they wanted....

      yes, it was idiotic and cruel of them, but, how she reacted to their actions is very likely why this kept up.

      I feel for her, she let them get to her, she let them make her feel upset and angery, she let them drive her to do something that will very likely cause her to be even less popular among her fellow students....

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:19pm

    Yes, suing teens sure sounds like bullying to me.

     

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    Danielle, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:22pm

    This is in no way like suing a "mean employer." Trying to compare the two is ridiculous and uneducated.

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:33pm

      Re:

      so when she sues because shes not happy with her work performance evaluation and it upsets her very much, thats nothing like suing because somebody made fun of her on the internet?

      seems pretty close to me....thin skin and if she wins this(likely) she will have a sense of this being the best way to deal with people hurting her feelings/making fun of her.

      sorry, but as somebody whos seen his share of job evaluations(for myself and others) I can tell you, some people get very upset over even minor admonishments to their performance, one guy threw his laptop threw a window when it was pointed out he spent to much time on the phone with some clients...(3hrs for a single client....a bit much...specially seeing he was sales....)

      but hey, more power to her and you Danielle, if you think sueing people for being mean to you on the internet or at work is the best way to handle this stuff, have at it... and good luck tracking down all the people who ridicule and make fund of you online....

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:42pm

      Re:

      This is exactly like that, the underlying behavior is framed on emotions and those are triggered by things people get upset about it, trying to differentiate from a mean employer or a mean classmate is the ridiculous and uneducated thing.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:26pm

    Someone should make a wall of shame.

    Included should be the names of every neighbor, teacher and parent who let a children become a monster, noting what their roles in that outcome was.

    We all are responsible for that crap, it is not only parents faults, in other countries parents are just as retarded as the average American and still they have less of this kind of behavior and the reason is simple, the community is the safety net, those little monsters weren't born that way probably rare are the true born monsters in this world the vast majority are manufactured by social norms and this is something that happens so often that it can't be attributed to chance this is a social problem that has grown to epidemic proportions and part of the problem is the law that is restraining or discouraging others from having a real role.

     

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    Danielle, May 1st, 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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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 4:19pm

      Re:

      Is a different situation same emotional underlying.

      You may not sue an employer but others have no problem doing it.

      About the fake thing, well.
      Depends, in a community where nobody knows who you are that can be a problem, in a community where everybody knows who you are nobody would care because they all know it was somebody trying to get at you or have fun.

      Aside from that, the law here is also part of the problem, by enabling people to sue for anything and everything we get to the point where society cannot fulfill its role as a guide for behavior. You get dependent on a rigid system that can't and will never be able to act properly in all instances because it doesn't have the malleability to do so, and by shifting the role of enforcement from society to the government you discourage people from doing something about it, which means you are getting rid of the social safety net necessary to keep the behavior you so decry in check.

       

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        AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 4:45pm

        Re: Re:

        well said, well said.

        I think the problem is Danielle dosnt understand that not everybody is like her, and many people, specially those raised to sue or report everything to the authorities are prone to doing just that any time somebody upsets them.

        a friend of mine (showed him this topic) said it reminded him of his sister who grew up with their mother, any time anybody upsets her she calls the cops and files a police report.

        Im not joking, she once did it on me for telling her to "grow up" when she was crying about somebody giving her the finger in traffic....(she was acting like a little kid who had his lolly taken away)

        this action came about because their mother did the same thing and sued anybody who upset her, shes so well known in the town she raised his sister in that the cops and 911 operators know her voice.

        she gets zero respect from the cops anymore, shes barred from entering many establishments in town(including walmart) all because shes got this sense of entitlement to legal protection from anything that could upset her....

        his sister and mother have both also filed reports and complaints about books they didnt like being on shelves of book stores(harry potter for example)

        nobody knows why moms that way, but I would guess she got the example from somebody she grew up around....

        the fact is, once you teach somebody that "this is how you deal with XX situation" and that it works, they will use that as their first option rather then last.

        I honestly expect this girl to sue anybody who truly upsets her IF she wins this case, because it will re-enforce her belief that the legal routs the best rout.

        Oh another example of this kind of behavior is people like an aunt-in-law of mine who intentionally gets in car wrecks to collect the insurance money.....shes on wreck 18 or 19 now....why would she keep doing this and harming herself.....because it makes her money....

        people who sue doctors for anything and everything...same deal once they win a case, they tend to file another one...then they are upset no doctors will see them anymore....

         

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          Rikuo (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 3:22am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "shes on wreck 18 or 19 now....why would she keep doing this and harming herself.....because it makes her money...."

          Gotta call bull on this. No insurance company in the world would insure you if you're on wreck 18 or 19, no matter how fine the evidence is that it was totally not your fault.

           

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    Thomas (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:54pm

    So..

    bullying is acceptable? No one cares?

     

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      AzureSky (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 4:55pm

      Re: So..

      no, but as I and others have said, it shouldnt be a legal issue, this should be dealt with social mechanisms, the girl should learn to deal with it and turn their actions back on them without having to take legal action.

      Im quite sure shes angery as hell and just wants revenge for somebody making sport of her.

      something I have learned about women and had confirmed when talking with every woman i know, women are on average FAR FAR FAR more vindictive then men, they will remember a small slight for decades, where most guys will forget even major slites quite quickly.

      I have never seen 2 women get in a fight then endup friends.....yet I have seen many cases of men/boys getting into knock down drag out fights, and endup friends....

      I once watched a girl dump a 2lt of orange soda over a friends head, for something he did in jr.high...when she said what it was....i about fell over....

      he had made the horrible mistake of teasing about the sound her flipflops made when she walked....

      this was over a decade after we got out of highschool, and she was still holding a grudge....

      thankfully with the soda, no real harm done, he was just wet and sticky...

      also another note here, bullying use to be physical, the rest was harassment and teasing, I would put this in the extream end of the latter 2, she was not physically threatened or attacked, she was just made fun of...sure in a very mean spirited way...but hey, thats life....

      I weep for the nation when we start passing laws that make it a crime to be a jackass online....because 98% of the people online are going to be felons.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 4:11pm

    Bullying is not acceptable and should be dealt by social mechanism not by legal ones.

     

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    jsf (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 6:00am

    This Can Be Damaging Sooner Than You Think

    I think that the libel suit is appropriate, if for no other reason than to get the truth out and the page taken down.

    Others have mentioned the potential damage something like this could do for future job prospects, but there is something even more near term. If you want to get into a prestigious middle or high school(private, charter, magnet and others) these days something like this page could damage your attempts.

     

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    negruvoda (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 7:36am

    Sure bullying is a fact of life, and alternate means should be used to solve your problems with bullies. What alternate means do you suggest?

    I was bullied during my first years of school. And going to the principal, or the parents (the cops were never involved in such things)was never a solution. The only thing that worked was laying the bully out cold. I risked getting injured since most bullies were bigger and meaner, but eventually I knocked one of them unconscious and most of it stopped, both verbal and physical.

    Now for the caveat.
    1 This happened on another continent, in a society that considers corporal punishment not only acceptable, but required. And fights among children or teenagers were common and ignored unless they involved weapons.
    2 I live in Canada today, and what we have here is a Zero Tolerance policy. So a bully can just tease, and spread rumors, and you can't do anything about it. Hitting him/her results in charges of assault and the involvement of police and the legal system, and the bully is now the victim. Going to the authorities (parents, school) usually results in failure. Parents say: "not my child, he/she is not a bully", and the school says that there is no proof of bullying. So a kid has no help.
    3 What exactly do the people that say grow a thicker skin expect her and the rest of society to do? Just take it, and teach the bully that they can do anything they want without repercussions? Teach them that as long as they can say "i never touched them" they can torment others and lie and cheat with impunity?
    4 And to those saying that public shaming is an option I say Please. The bully craves attention, publicity. The bully wants to be known for what he/she does. They are not ashamed they are proud of making somebody's life miserable.

    This is the society we live in today, a society where the only recourse is to suffer or sue. They tried to have the page down, they contacted the school, the police and FB. Nothing was done. Now it is time to use the only way left to them, the only way the bullies can be hurt and taught a lesson.

    I really don't see what is wrong with that. Actually I see what is wrong with it, but around here there is no alternative.

     

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    Don't Toews Me Bro, May 2nd, 2012 @ 8:42am

    okay, i've had enough of the kindergartners being turned loose to play around on the internet. can the adults have their internet back now?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2012 @ 9:57am

    It would be interesting to see a copy of the complaint because the general rule at common law is that parent's are not liable for the torts committed by their minor child. States have modified the general rule to attach liability in certain circumstances, but even then most of them are quite limited. Perhaps libel can be shoe-horned into the Georgia statute, but it may very well prove to be a difficult task.

     

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    btr1701 (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:04pm

    Acceptance

    > But I can't imagine that filing lawsuits
    > against other students helps make one more
    > accepted in school.

    Sounds to me that the kid has pretty much given up on being accepted and just wants to stop the behavior and teach a lesson or two to her tormentors.

    Seems reasonable to me, considering they tried every other alternative first.

     

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    toyotabedzrock (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 9:10pm

    STOP IGNORING THAT KIDS ARE DYING FROM BULLYING TWO JUST RECENTLY!

    STOP IGNORING THAT KIDS ARE DYING FROM BULLYING TWO JUST RECENTLY!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2012 @ 3:17am

    "The student had apparently asked both the school and the police to do something about the fake page...
    ...That said, is libel really the most reasonable response?"

    Sounds like reasoning didn't work. Libel was the last response, not the first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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