What They Don't Know, Won't Hurt Them...But What About What They DO Know?

In the past, if your little slugger broke a neighbor's window with a long fly ball, you would march him over to Mr. Johnson's house, have him apologize to the homeowner and then make good on a new window. Whether you made said slugger pay for the window or you just paid for it yourself was a private family matter. The end result was slugger taking ownership of the accident.

When an "accident" happens online, the lines get a little blurred. How much fault is slugger's? How much fault is yours? What if you ignore the problem? Where is the liability? There is no broken glass lying beside a telltale baseball.

A Georgia appeals court says parents can be held liable for a cyberbullying Facebook, page created by their child, and a jury will decide where fault lies in a recent case dealing with "who knew what and when." In this case the question was whether parents caused some part of the injury to a classmate of their son's after learning he had created a fake and disparaging Facebook page in the name of a female seventh-grade classmate that included sexual and racist comments about her and others. The account was connected to more than 70 "friends" and remained accessible to Facebook users for more than 11 months after boy's parents were made aware of the page by the school principal. It was not removed until the parents of the girl brought the suit.

This is a question of "exercising reasonable supervision" over a child's online activities, when parents know the child's online activities are harming another. In this case, the son continued to send out and accept friend requests from the bogus Facebook account after the parents had been informed by the school that the fake account existed. The lower court ruled that the parents did not have a duty to take down the page, because Facebook told them that only the user who signed up for the account had the authority to remove the page, but the court of appeals made it clear that the parents had a duty to exercise reasonable supervision over their son's computer activities once they knew about his fake Facebook page.

While this case is still in the courts, it begs the answer to a few questions:

  1. Are the parents responsible to take down the site their son established?
  2. What is a reasonable amount of time in which to take the site down?
  3. As "bullying" is a new legal buzzword, how is cyberbullying being handled in the courts? Who has the liability?
  4. How much "reasonable supervision" needs to take place when your children are turned loose on the Internet?
  5. Should Facebook also assume some liability if they allow, even underhandedly, a minor to create fake information for another minor?

Sadly, it is clear that black and white thinking won't solve this issue. When the "cyber" is added to any term, it becomes instantly more difficult to control. It seems we wait for the government to lead the way with standards and procedures for handling issues on the Internet. It may be a long wait. In the mean time, remember, the wise King Solomon said, "Discipline your children; you'll be glad you did. They will turn out delightful to live with." Call Burnett Wilson Law at (402) 810-8611 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Reference: "Parents could be liable for 7th-grader's fake Facebook page about classmate, appeals court says" by Martha Neil

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