According to the Wall Street Journal, the Georgia Court of Appeals has recently ruled that parents may soon be imputed with legal responsibility for their childs activity online.
The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the parents of a seventh-grade boy might be sued under a negligence theory for failing to get their son to remove a fake Facebook profile that allegedly defamed another female student.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, the boy created the Facebook page in 2011 but pretended that it belonged to his female classmate. The boy used a “Fat Face” app to make the girls profile picture appear as though she was obese. According to the court documents, the boy also posted comments to the account that were profane, sexually explicit, racist, and portrayed the young girl as sexually promiscuous.
Once the girl found out about the page, she informed her parents who, in turn, informed the school principal. The school suspended the boy for two weeks and also informed his parents about the incident. However, the Facebook page was never removed and remained online for another 11 months. Facebook, Inc. ultimately deactivated the page after being contacted by the girls parents. The girls parents then sued the boys parents alleging that the Facebook page was libelous.
Georgia Court of Appeals Judge John J. Ellington in the opinion wrote 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 [parents’] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl] sustained from [the boy’s] actions (and inactions).
Attorneys for both sides agree that this ruling has created new legal precedent for finding that parents may be legally responsible for what their children do online, whether they know about it or not.
In order to establish a cause of action in negligence in Georgia, the plaintiff must prove the following:
In the case above, the court held that the Defendants (the boys parents) breached their duty to supervise their sons use of a computer and an Internet account. Further, the court felt that once the Defendants found out about the Facebook page, they did nothing about it they never looked at the page to see what their son had posted and they never had their son take the page down. This failure to do anything may be considered negligence, the court said, as the Defendants were informed the page existed but failed to monitor the page after they found out about it.
The Defendants attorneys have stated publicly that they intend to appeal the courts decision. However, it is clear that if upheld, this ruling will impose a large responsibility upon parents. For if a parent is given notice of a problem created by their child’s online activity, they are imputed with the responsibility of monitoring and even taking steps to remedy the problem.
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