A teenager in Georgia has decided to take things into her own hands after her school and police said they could do nothing about classmates bullying her on Facebook.
Fourteen-year-old Alex Boston and her parents are filing suit against two classmates and their parents for libel after the two classmates allegedly created a fake Facebook account in her name, using a photo of her that they distorted. The account was also used to post a racist video to YouTube that implied that Boston hated African-Americans, and to leave crude comments on the Facebook pages of other friends, suggesting she was sexually active and smoked marijuana.
“All of these things were not true and they knew them to be not true,” says Boston’s attorney Natalie Woodward.
The activities exposed Boston to “hatred, contempt and ridicule by her classmates and peers,” according to the complaint, which accuses the teens of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks punitive damages. The parents of the defendants are named in the suit because they paid for the internet access that allowed their children to create the account and post the messages, and allegedly failed to supervise their activity.
Boston decided to take this novel route after learning of the Facebook page a year ago and complaining about the behavior to school officials at Palmer Middle School in Kennesaw, Georgia. They told her there was nothing they could do about it because the activity occurred off campus.
Police also said their hands were tied as well because there was no Georgia cyberbullying law they could apply to the situation.
In Georgia, schools can punish students if they bully others at school, but the law governing this does not extend to text messages and social media sites. Georgia does not have a law that covers off-campus harassment, though seven other states do have laws that cover this.
Police in Georgia advised Boston and her parents to file a complaint with Facebook, requesting that the fake account be taken down.
But after several requests to Facebook failed, Boston and her family decided to sue the teens allegedly responsible for the account. Facebook only deleted the account about a week ago after the lawsuit was filed and a story about it aired over the weekend on CNN, Woodward said.
Woodward said there had been no dispute between the teens prior to the bullying.
“She just considers herself a normal, average seventh-grader,” Woodward said. “She had never been targeted or had something like this happen before.”
The alleged teen offenders told school officials that they just didn’t like Boston, according to Woodward. “They said ‘she followed us around school too much.’ There was no real explanation, as is so often the case with these activities. Why kids do things to other kids is a mystery, and is for sure in this case.”
Cyberbullying garnered worldwide attention in 2007 after an adult named Lori Drew was accused of creating a fake Myspace account with her teen daughter and another girl that was used to bully another teenage girl who later committed suicide. Prosecutors later charged Drew under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating Myspace’s terms of service in creating the fake account. Drew was later convicted by a jury on misdemeanor charges, but the conviction was overturned by a judge.
The case prompted new cyberbullying laws to be passed in states across the nation. In 2009, in the wake of the Drew case, a Missouri ninth-grader was arrested for creating a website that disparaged another teen.