Teen sues over Facebook bullying

Two classmates created a fake Facebook account in 14-year-old Alex Boston’s name, using it to suggest that the Georgia girl is fat, promiscuous, a drug user and a racist. Her middle school principal said the school can’t regulate off-campus activity. So the girl and her parents are suing the cyberbullies for libel.

The page features a distorted photo of  Boston.

The account was also used to post a racist video to YouTube that implied that Boston hated African-Americans, and to leave crude comments on the Facebook pages of other friends, suggesting she was sexually active and smoked marijuana.

. . . The activities exposed Boston to “hatred, contempt and ridicule by her classmates and peers,” according to the complaint, which accuses the teens of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks punitive damages. The parents of the defendants are named in the suit because they paid for the internet access that allowed their children to create the account and post the messages, and allegedly failed to supervise their activity.

Georgia law doesn’t penalize cyberbullying and schools have no authority over students’ off-campus behavior.

According to the lawyer, Facebook did not respond to requests to delete the false account until after the lawsuit was filed and publicized on CNN.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Interesting. A grown adult created a fake account to get into my secret homeschool group, then spied on me so they could kick a few of us out of another, Christian group. I contacted FB, but they don’t care. I felt a little violated and am still freaked out b/c I don’t know who it is and what ADULT does this? Teens you kinda expect it from! The story is here http://www.thekerrieshow.com/2012/04/christian-homeschool-facebook-group.html because I want others to be careful on Facebook!!!!!!! Thanks for this piece. By the way, Facebook took down the false profile for a while, and now it is back up. I think FB is in for some real problems down the road!

  2. SuperSub says:

    Actually, this seems like exactly the situation libel laws were designed for. Hope they win, especially against the parents. A few of these cases will do more to end cyber-bullying than millions of federal grants to schools.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    FINALLY.

    I’ve been advocating this as the cure for cyberbullying for a long time (see, for example, this thread). It seems like a common-sense alternative to continuing schools’ ridiculous mission creep. I’m usually not a fan of greater litigiousness, but in this case I feel like the market for litigation has been artificially depressed by the inappropriate exercise of jurisdiction by schools. Besides, by making the nuclear bomb of litigation the only recourse, most of the day-to-day crap will largely be ignored, as it should.

    Benefit: This process focuses attention on serious claims and actual harm caused by damaging reputation; it’s not “punishment” for speech. Libel claims aren’t for transitory insults. You don’t get in trouble for calling someone a jerk.

    Bonus: Most of the things that teens are likely to say to each other over which they might be sued are libel per se.

    Icing on the Cake: The best part about attacking off-campus cyberbullying with libel causes of action rather than with school punishment for the nebulous claim of “bullying” is that truth is a defense to libel.

    Unless it’s a matter of National Security or you’re bound by an NDA of some sort, there should never be any official punishment for saying the true things. The truth should be sacred ground. And if a teenager is a thief or a liar or a slut… while it’s certainly not polite to call them that, and while I think schools should enforce codes of civility while students are on campus*, it should be no crime to state the truth of the matter.

    * I fully admit that what counts as “campus” in the digital age is a difficult question. But it’s hardly one without solutions.

  4. I guess suing the parents is a better and more legal recourse than what I was thinking….having the dad of the wronged kid go to the parents of each of the bully kids and kick their asses for raising such little jerks. Because really, the parents take some of the blame in this. Kids tend to be jerks to one another but parents can either let it happen, work to limit it, or sometimes even make it worse.

    I hope the family of the bullied kid wins; as SuperSub said, this does seem to fall into the category of libel.

  5. I keep telling my kids over and over again that they need to learn to control their impulses while they are young and the stakes are low, that as they get older, the stakes will get higher and higher and the people deciding their outcomes will not have unconditional love for them like their parents do. These kids are sure getting a taste of that.

    How sad that this whole situation really boiled down to “We just didn’t like her.”

  6. The two classmates created an online identity to falsely represent someone else. Yea, the kids definitely need to be punished. Should the parents of the classmates be held responsible? I don’t think so. They didn’t commit the act. It would make sense for the parents to take full responsibility if the two classmates didn’t know any better. But, those classmates knew well enough that they would cause distress through their actions. And, their prank was pretty elaborate. They should definitely be punished via a certain number of hours of community service. That’s what I think anyway.

    • It is curious that the article doesn’t mention the offenders’ parents, yet they must have been involved. Surely school officials discussed the situation with the parents before saying there was nothing they could do. Surely the police discussed the situation with the parents before saying there was nothing they could do. Am I being too naive to assume that this communication would have automatically been initiated? And if it was, I’d say the parents hold the greater share of the blame. If not, I’d say we’re talking about a very dysfunctional community…

      • Supersub says:

        While I obviously cannot speak for the case at hand, but when I was teaching in MS the past two years our principals would routinely be calling home to notify parents what their dear children were doing on Facebook. The most common response? – “I can’t do anything about it. You take care of it”

    • Anonymous says:

      Community service is not going to be an available remedy in a civil suit. And suing the students alone has the problem of getting blood out of a turnip. It is hard to imagine that if the students alone lost the suit that anyone would care about a judgement against them that will never be paid.

      At least including the parents, if the suit is successful, might make similarly situated parents think about doing a better job policing their kids behavior.

  7. I love ricki’s comment!!