In what must surely stand among the most convoluted of rulings ever to emerge from a court in the American judicial system, the Georgia Court of Appeals declared last Friday that parents may be held liable for what their kids post on Facebook. It’s pretty clear that the esteemed justices are woefully bereft of any understanding of technology.
To back things up a moment, the whole thing started when a boy got ticked off at a female classmate and enlisted the help of a buddy to create a fake FB page under her name. He distorted a photo to make her look fat, and posted a number of comments to make her appear to be a racist slut. When, of course, she found out, she told her parents, who complained to school officials, who suspended him for a couple of days, while his parents grounded him for a week.
The page, however, stayed up until FB yanked it after the girl’s parents contacted the company. Okay, this is your standard “cyberbullying” situation. And the girl’s parents didn’t contact the little troll’s parents because the school officials refused to divulge anybody’s identity on confidentiality grounds.
In any case, Facebook yanked it when they were informed, so end of story, right? Well, since you’re reading about it here, you already know the answer. Snowflake’s parents lawyered up, got the names of the troll’s parents, and sued.
“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),” wrote Judge John J. Ellington in the opinion, which was handed down Oct. 10. He was joined by two other judges on the panel.
Okay, now let’s look at that: undeniably, the kid’s a troll, but here’s a question for the tech geniuses out there in our judicial system: how do his parents force him to give up the password associated with that Facebook account? Is waterboarding him okay?
And if the parents cannot obtain the appropriate password and other login information, is it reasonable to hold them liable for the existence of the page? Bearing in mind that the judicial system couldn’t even arrest the kid, are they themselves not at least as culpable as the parents of the troll?
And here’s the real kicker: studies have shown that many, if not most, girls eventually engage in “sexting” for at least some period of time. Should her parents then be held accountable for production of child porn?
If judges lack the technical understanding to make reasonable rulings, then they really need to recuse themselves from such cases.