As I was sitting at my desk reviewing cases and typing up client notes, I came across the following story in my mail inbox: “Adolescents’ Posts Found to be ‘Puerile’ But Not Actionable” published in the New York Law Journal.
In short, a young lady from Long Island sued four of her former high school classmates and their parents in Nassau County Supreme Court for defamation and was seeking damages in the amount of $6million dollars. It seems these immature, insensitive and cruel teenagers thought it would be a bright idea to create a ‘private’ Facebook page where they could say mean and untruthful things about this young lady. She decided to sue.
The Judge dismissed the case holding that the facts as presented did not rise to the level of defamation, mainly because no human being with common sense and a brain would believe the things these four morons decided to write on Facebook were true (you want the legalese click on the pdf). When addressing the negligent supervision claims against the parents, the Judge also dismissed stating there was no cause of action as there was no “dangerous instrument.” The “dangerous instrument exception” to negligent supervision states that a parent has a duty to protect a third party from harm when a child misuses a dangerous instrument, when the parent is aware of the instrument and can control its use.
The Judge held that a computer was not a dangerous instrument and that to make it so would open up a Pandora’s box (my words, not hers) for parents everywhere.
This young lady’s attorney even made the argument for cyber bullying but the Judge nixed that mainly because New York State’s laws do not (yet) recognize the aforementioned as a tort (definition: a civil wrong, accidental or intentional, that results in injury to another).
I’ll admit it, I once had a Facebook page, but the shine wore off rather quickly. Too much of a waste of time and a drain on my precious life. It seems to me that with the advance of social media, people are much too quick to write things on-line but are none too eager to confront situations with others face-to-face, like they did it back in the “good old days” when people actually spoke on the phone or met up to actually speak to each other and tell each other off.
Now, they hide behind their computers spewing venom, not knowing that while they can erase the posts, they can never erase the impact of those words from the minds of the people reading it, or worse yet– from the target.
I hope those four young people learned a lesson. Yes, the lawsuit was dismissed but I doubt the road to that moment was anything but pleasant. And I know they will never forget it as long as they live.
I do not understand why people cannot live up to this very simple, but golden, rule- “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s that simple people, really.