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WATCH THIS SPACE…. CYBER-SPACE THAT IS

If you think you cannot be financially liable for the “online activities” of your minor children, think again.

In the case of Boston v. Athearn, decided this past October, the Court of Appeals of Georgia expressed a real concern with parents who fail to adequately monitor their minor child’s web activities. This Georgia case involved a seventh grade student who, with the help of a friend, obtained a yahoo email account posing as Alexandria Boston (the victim-student).  With this email address, the seventh-grader created a Facebook page to harass Alexandria through the use of altered images of her, and through fabricated postings to the phony Facebook page.  

The fictitious postings had Alexandria discussing her use of illegal drugs, making racist comments, and making confessions regarding her sexual orientation.

Once the parents of the perpetrating student were made aware of the libelous Facebook page, they did nothing more than ground their child for a week.  The parents never did so much as to look into whether they could have the Facebook page dismantled.  As a result of the Facebook page remaining on-line, it continued to be accessible (including of course to other students and teachers) for eleven months.  Each person’s continued access to the Facebook page could be viewed as a separate and additional instance of an act of negligence by the parents, compounding their potential liability exposure.  

The Appellate Court of Georgia sent the case back to the trial court to determine the extent of the negligence of the parents and any resulting monetary damages that could be assessed against them.  

Regardless of what the trial court ultimately determines, this case should serve to raise everyone’s awareness as to the potential liability exposure we each have over matters that we may feel are beyond our control or technical know-how.  Consider, for example, an employee of a restaurant owner going online to post bogus bad-ratings of some competitor restaurant.  The issue may then become whether the injured restaurant owner could hold the restaurant owner liable for not adequately safeguarding such an event from happening, especially if the employer has reason to know that this sort of thing had already taken place.

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