A 14-year-old girl is suing two classmates for libel after they created a bogus Facebook account in her name that painted her as racist and sexually obscene, according to news reports.
Alex Boston of Atlanta, GA, found out about the fake account a year ago. It included her name, info and a profile picture that bloated her face. It also featured a racist video, and plenty of sexual comments posted to Alex’s friends’ pages, ostensibly from her.
“I was upset that my friends would turn on me like that,” Alex told The Associated Press. “I was crying. It was hard to go to school the next day.”
When her family reported the account to school administrators and police, they told her the harassment happened off-campus and there was little they could do. Police recommended the family reach out to Facebook. Despite multiple requests, staff at the social media giant didn’t bother taking the phony page down until the lawsuit was filed a week ago. (The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.)
In the meantime, federal courts in the U.S. are still weighing whether censoring students who bully others online (but off school grounds) is a step in the right direction or constitutes a violation of free speech.
In 2005, a Pennsylvania student suspended for creating a Myspace parody that suggested his principal smoked pot and stored beer in his office had his suspension overturned by a federal judge, who decided the Myspace debacle hadn’t disrupted the school year.
Conversely, a federal appeals court upheld the suspension of a West Virginia student who crafted a web page – at home – that insinuated that a fellow student had a sexually transmitted disease.
Seven states have added “off-campus harassment” to their bullying laws, but not Georgia.
“Cyberbullying really goes beyond the four walls of the school or the four corners of the campus,” said Atlanta Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is pushing for an expansion of Georgia’s bullying law.
“If you use a cellphone, PDA or social media site, then those activities follow the child both into the school and out of the school.”
In Canada, people can sue cyber bullies for slander or libel in criminal or civil cases. Here too, the balance is weighed between Charter rights to freedom of expression and “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”
What do you make of the lawsuit? Should families be going after cyber bullies in court?