I think within the next five years we'll be adding a new word to the official english dictionary - cyberbullying. It seems like we can't go a week without hearing of a case where a teen or group of teens is using a social media platform to harass or defame one of their peers. While Alex Boston's case might not be the first cyberbullying occurrence, there are a few interesting aspects of the case which warrant attention.
First, Boston is suing the classmates responsible for libel. She is able to utilize libel, because the teens who harassed her created a fake Facebook account and posted distorted images of her and created fake posts which made disparaging remarks towards blacks and made claims she smoked marijuana. None of which are true, hence the libel lawsuit.
(Image Credit: Arstechnica)
For those who are wondering whether her case has a chance, here's the legal definition of libel: Libel is any defamation that can be seen, such as a writing, printing, effigy, movie, or statue.
There are four elements which must be proven in order for a libel case to succeed. First, it must be proven the defendant issued a defamatory remark. Then the plaintiff must prove it was published, which in the legal world means it was written somewhere that the message was seen by more than one person. It must then be established whether the plaintiff can be clearly identified in the defamatory remark. Finally, it must be established that harm was done to the plaintiff.
If you've been keeping up with your libel checklist regarding this case like I have, I think it's pretty obvious it meets all the requirements. There have been all sorts of libel cases brought forth since the inception of the internet, with many of them failing to meet the final requirement for libel. After all, it's hard to prove what harm has truly been done to a person by a simple joke or tease on the internet. It's not real life...
In Boston's case, I imagine the harm will be proven by the fact that the harassment lead to emotional trauma, along with the aspect of your reputation being tarnished in middle school and having to deal with that aftermath. In fact, she didn't even know of the page until she discovered people acting weird towards her in school.
The story aired on CNN over the weekend, allowing Boston, her family, and their lawyer to explain the case a bit further.
Before anyone calls this a frivolous lawsuit, know that Boston and her parents went through many channels to try and have something done to find justice. They took their complaints to school officials who told them they had no power over activities occurring off school grounds. The police were unable to take action due to Georgia not having any cyberbullying laws. They even went to Facebook who for whatever reason didn't take down the page. Heaven forbid we see nipples on Facebook, but allowing teens to badger a 14 year-old girl is perfectly fine. It should be noted that Facebook did take down the page once the CNN segment aired. Classy timing there FB.
There are 14 states in the US which have cyberbullying laws to protect individuals online. Of the states who don't have such laws at this time, six of them have laws going under review.
One final aspect of this case to keep in mind, and one I discovered while doing my due diligence on libel research is how many people this could potentially affect. An aspect of libel which hasn't been mentioned in this case is how not only are the people who originally published the page are responsible, but those who re-publish a defamatory remark are just as responsible in the eyes of the law. So does that mean that technically Boston could sue those who liked and shared the Facebook page?
If you're looking for a reason why the teens harassed Boston, you're going to be left with the standard teen remark. Boston's lawyer, Natalie Woodward said, "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."
The parents of the teens involved with the page will be ponying up the dough if the judgement falls in Boston's favor; if the case isn't settled out of court. Pretty hefty, and righteous punishment for bored and cruel teenagers with nothing to do. If you're wondering how the teens responsible were found, Boston herself tracked them down. Pretty intuitive for a 14 year-old teen.
This case represents a wide spread outbreak of cyberbullying, which has lead to many states adopting laws to protect people online. Such laws are providing school administrators the power to police not only school related activities, but those in the world of social media. Which leaves us with a no-win situation. Either we allow the administrators power to police these sites, with many people complaining that it's none of their business what occurs outside of school grounds. On the flip side of the equation, if this problem can't be stopped at the academic level then it falls to the police to handle. And if there are no laws there, then libel lawsuits are the only defense for someone against cyberbullying.
While I imagine a libel lawsuit is the last thing the Boston family wanted to get wrapped up in, justice has to be found somewhere. Alex should also be commended for allowing her name to be used publicly, which she opted to do in order to raise awareness towards the issue.