The Law and Business of Social Media
November 24, 2014 - Terms of Use, Litigation

Forced to Cyber-Spy: Court Rules Parents Can Be Held Negligent for Child’s Facebook Activity

Forced to Cyber-Spy: Court Rules Parents Can Be Held Negligent for Child’s Facebook Activity

Are parents now liable for what their kids post to Facebook?  According to a recent decision in the Georgia Court of Appeals, they are.

The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the parents of a seventh-grade student could be found negligent for failing to ensure that their son deleted an offensive Facebook profile that defamed a fellow classmate.  The fake Facebook account depicted a fat-face caricature of the female student and featured sexual, profane and racist postings.  Facebook eventually took the page down at the urging of the bullied girl’s parents, more than 11 months after the school first disciplined the male student.  According to the court, the failure of the boy’s parents to take any action to get their son to delete the profile for nearly a year after the school alerted them about the Facebook page could constitute negligence.

“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),” the court stated.

The appeals court found that because the boy’s parents made no attempt to view the Facebook page, learn what content their son had distributed or demand that their son delete the page, they could be held negligent for failing to police their son’s social media account.  For this reason, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the boy’s parents.  The court, though, agreed with the lower court’s dismissal with respect to holding the parents responsible for allowing the page to be posted in the first place.

If upheld, this ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals could usher in a new era of parental responsibility, imposing a significant duty upon parents to monitor their children’s online activity and remedy any problems once they are put on notice.

But will parents be upset about this holding, or welcome it as they seek ways to justify their cyber-spying?  More than 37% of teens own smartphones, and parents are increasingly looking for ways to keep tabs on their kids.  According to the Family Online Safety Institute, 78% of parents have logged into their child’s Facebook account to monitor their private messages.  In 2012, 20 million people had already downloaded Life360, a location app that allows families to track each other’s movements with by-the-minute updates.  According to the co-founder of TeenSafe, an invisible tracking app that allows parents to monitor their kid’s location, social media activity and text messages, more than 500,000 users have used the service to help identify online bullying and keep teens out of dangerous situations.

So the next time a teenager yells at a parent for violating her civil liberties by tracking all of her online activities, the parent can simply point to the Georgia Court of Appeals decision and say they were forced to cyber-spy, for everyone’s protection.