Should Parents Be Liable for Their Child’s Creation of a Defamatory Facebook Page?

In Georgia, two seventh graders posted defamatory remarks about a classmate on a fake Facebook page that they created under her name. Their parents may be held liable for their actions once the parents learned of the account, and did not take measures to remove it. This is an unprecedented case that will decide whether parents should be held liable for their children’s activity on the internet.

cyberbullying parent liabilityThe students used a “Fat Face” app to twist the girl’s features out of shape, and made derogatory remarks about her. Per the court document, both students added material to the profile that mentioned that the girl held racist views and was a homosexual. They also had the fake Facebook page send invitations to the girl’s friends, teachers, and relatives. According to the court, the material on the fake Facebook page was “graphically sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive.”

When the girl’s parents found out about the fake Facebook page in the name of their daughter, they discussed the matter with the principal of the school. The two students responsible for creating the page admitted their involvement. They were then suspended from school for two days.

Even after the students’ parents were informed in writing of their children’s behavior, the fake Facebook page could be viewed for an additional 11 months, after which Facebook made the account inactive. It is the opinion of the court that during that time, the fake persona kept extending or accepting requests to become Facebook friends with more users, and that other users saw the page, and posted on it.

The judge ruled that the parents may be held liable for not compelling their son to remove the fake Facebook page that made possibly libelous remarks about the girl. According to the opinion of the judge, “Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers, for an additional 11 months, we conclude that a jury could find that the [parents’] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl] sustained from [the boy’s] actions (and inactions).”

The case is now going to be tried in the lower court. Hopefully, the trial court will decide in the girl’s favor and hold the parents liable, thereby setting a new precedent that will deter other students from engaging in the same type of bullying behavior.

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