My last blog was about the intersection with Facebook and the criminal law. Today the blog concerns the civil law and Facebook. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog there is a Georgia case regarding a parent’s liability for what their child writes on his/her Facebook account. In this case the parents became liable for defamation as a result of their child’s Facebook activity. (The actual article can be viewed on the Wall Street Law Blog posted October 14, 2014.)
The case started when a student posted a “false” Facebook page regarding another female student in his school. Using an app called “Fat Face” he made the girl look obese. He then added completely inappropriate comments in a sexual and raciest manner.
Of course, the girl eventually found out about it and also the student responsible. She took her complaint to the school authorities. The male student was punished with an in-school suspension. After his parents found out about the site he was grounded for a week. For reasons of privacy and confidentially the girl’s parents were not given the details of the identity of the boy and therefore the girl’s parents did not immediately confront the boy’s parents (what was not explained was, did the girl know who the boy was so she could tell her parents.)
The legal difficulty arose when the Facebook page stayed up for the next eleven months. It was finally taken down by Facebook after the girl’s parents complained to the company. As a result the girl filed a law suit against the male student and his parents. The immediate question for the trial court was the parent’s responsibility for their child’s conduct. The Court concluded that “Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers for an additional eleven months, we conclude that a jury could find that the (parent’s) negligence proximately caused some part of the injury (the girl) sustained from the (boy’s) actions (and inactions),”. The Court did say that the boy’s parents were not liable for allowing the page to be posted in the first place.)
Apparently the issue here is a novel one. The lawyer for the boy’s parents could not find any case holding parent’s responsible (or not responsible) for their child’s computer use, including cyberbullying. The girl’s attorney believes that parent’s now have a responsibili8ty to act immediately upon learning of the offensive material.
One question not discussed in the article was whether the boy’s parent’s homeowner’s insurance would cover such a situation. Depending on the policy a homeowner’s policy may cover events outside of slip and falls or damages because of the property itself.
As is evident from this and my last blog on criminal activity, the use of Facebook is bringing new legal problems to the Courts. It will probably take several years or more for these issues to be resolved. Unfortunately, technology seems to remain at least two steps ahead of the law.