Cyberbullying: Should Parents be Held Liable?

shutterstock_89683588By Farah Ali

In May 2011, Dustin Athearn and Melissa Snodgrass, seventh graders at Palmer Middle School in Georgia, created a fake Facebook page to taunt another student, Alexandria Boston (Alex). The students set up the fake Facebook profile under Alex’s name and used a “fat face” application to create and post an unflattering picture of her. The fake account also stated that Alex was a homosexual and that she endorsed racist viewpoints. To create further damage, the fake persona connected to over 70 Facebook friends, and it sent friend requests to Alex’s classmates, teachers, and family members. Dustin and Melissa used the profile to post graphically sexual, racist and offensive material. This included insinuating that Alex had mental health disorders and took illegal drugs.

When the school found out, Principal Cathy Wentworth called Dustin and Melissa to her office and had them sign a written statement explaining their involvement. Wentworth sent a form to the students’ parents explaining that the students would be disciplined with a two-day in-school suspension for their harassment of Alex. Dustin’s parents grounded him for a week. However, it was not until 11 months later in April 2012 that the profile was taken offline. In fact, the fake profile continued to send and accept new friend requests and users could still view and post on the profile before Facebook finally deactivated the account. Continue reading