When a 16-year-old boy accused his mother of Facebook slander, he submitted a handwritten complaint to an Arkansas court. When a towing company sued a Western Michigan University student, they demanded $750,000. Is Facebook libel the new crime?
Internet Slander: Facebook Postings by Mom Set off Court Battle
Parents have the duty to keep a close eye on their minor children’s antics, but now a 16-year-old boy accuses his mother of Facebook slander for making posts on his account. Quoting the AP, MSNBC(1) reports that the Arkansas teen submitted a handwritten complaint to the local courthouse. He alleges harassment, hacking and slander.
Mom asserts that her son’s Facebook postings — and her subsequent actions — were not actually an example of slander but instead the measures any parent would take after discovering worrisome posts made on a child’s social networking account. This case will go before a judge on May 12th.
Towing Company Sues Western Michigan University Student for Facebook Group Posts
The Anchor(2), a student-run weekly publication located in Rhode Island, recounts the lawsuit of a towing company against a Western Michigan University student. The business demands compensation in the amount of $750,000. This figure is believed to be the revenue lost because of Internet libel – Facebook groups are to blame – involving the company’s reputation.
Not an Example of Slander?
While the 16-year-old teen is to be commended for his understanding of the legal process, he made the mistake of asserting ‘slander’ as opposed to ‘libel.’ Whereas the former refers to a vocal utterance, the latter is actually indicative of a written statement. The foregoing notwithstanding, both cases raise the question of Facebook libel: the written posting of statements that purport to be factual and give a bad impression of another person or business.
Far-Reaching Effects of Facebook Libel
It is a well-documented fact that employers and even universities routinely mine social networking sites when considering applicants for jobs or coveted (but numerically limited) learning positions. Case in point is the number of job suspensions that resulted due to a Facebook group that advocated participation in the Lying Down Game. In that particular case, employers were made aware of truthful Facebook postings.
In the case of the 16-year-old boy, who accused his mother of Facebook slander, or the towing company, it may have been the accumulation of false statements that might shine an adverse light on the person or business. Driving home this point is the case of Doe vs. R.C.(3) Four minors set up a fake Facebook profile for John Doe, another minor. They portray him to be a racist.
Even though the profile is a fake, it garners numerous ‘friends.’ As such, it is a premier example of Facebook libel. It also causes the Facebook user pause: since online information survives in perpetuity (even when removed), what future impact will this have on John Doe’s employability and admission chances to top-notch universities?
(1)MSNBC. “16-year-old accuses mom of Facebook slander” (accessed May 4, 2010)
(2)The Anchor. “Student sued for Facebook page” (accessed May 4, 2010)
(3)Scribd. “Doe v RC – Facebook Case” (accessed May 4, 2010)