Silverman Interviewed on WRVA About Parental Liability for Cyberbullying
This morning I was interviewed by Jimmy Barrett of WRVA AM1140 regarding a Georgia case of cyberbullying that has led to a lawsuit against the parents of the bullies. The facts of the case are despicable. Two middle schoolers decided to pick on a classmate. They created a fake Facebook page in her name. Identity theft is surprisingly easy to do. They altered a picture of her to make her appear fat (also easily accomplished) and then posted status updates appearing to be from her that she was gay, racist, etc. To make it worse they "friended" about 60 of her classmates and extended family. She figured out who did it and the kids were given a 2 day in-school suspension which seems like a slap on the wrist to me. The parents were notified and one child was not allowed to socialize with friends for one week (a slap on the other wrist).
The parents of one of the responsible teens apparently did nothing to get their kid to take down the Facebook page. Facebook refused to take it down because only the registered user of the page could deactivate it (seriously?). The page wasn't taken down until about 11 months later and then only after the lawsuit was filed (coincidental?).
So the question for me was whether parents can be held liable under Virginia law? While I'm not aware of any similar lawsuit in Virginia, the Virginia Supreme Court has repeated refused to permit lawsuits against parents for failing to supervise their children so I don't think such a case would be successful in Virginia. That seemed to surprise Jimmy Barrett and probably many others, but that's the law in Virginia as I understand it.
Here is a link to a podcast of the interview: http://www.1140wrva.com/media/podcast-jimmy-barrett-RMNPodcasts/parents-liable-for-teens-online-25442458/
Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to work collectively to stop all forms of bullying. The next case could result in a more serious tragedy. The lesson from this case is not about legal liability, but how vulnerable our children are in this digital age.