Internet Law

Despite 'Utter Lack of Taste & Propriety,' FB Posts Didn't Libel & Parents Had No Duty to Monitor

In an apparent effort to extend the frontiers of defamation law where cyberbullying is concerned, a New York law firm sued four former classmates of an Oceanside High School student and their parents seeking $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages for an alleged vicious Facebook onslaught under the guise of humor.

But a state supreme court judge in Nassau County granted a defense summary judgment motion, explaining in a written opinion (PDF) provided by the New York Law Journal that the statements at issue were not grounded in fact.

Additional problems, according to the opinion, were presented because the plaintiff, Denise Finkel, wasn’t identified by name and the Facebook page was private rather than public.

While the social networking page displayed an “utter lack of taste and propriety,” it wasn’t actionable as defamation because “[an ordinary reader would not take them literally to conclude that any of these teenagers are having sex with wild or domestic animals or with male prostitutes dressed as firemen,” says Justice Randy Sue Marber in the opinion.

Likewise, the judge also threw out a negligent entrustment claim against the teens’ parents, saying that a computer is not a dangerous instrument, which is a necessary element of this cause of action.

“To declare a computer a dangerous instrument in the hands of teenagers in an age of ubiquitous computer ownership would create an exception that would engulf the rule against parental liability,” the judge writes.

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