Ella Genasci Smith '15 Opinions Editor
On Oct. 10, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that parents of minors may be held liable for the content their children post on Facebook. This ruling emerged from a case involving a boy who created a fake Facebook account, targeting and defaming a fellow female classmate.
The parents of the boy were thus potentially liable for negligence by allowing the Facebook account to stay up, despite repeated attempts by the girl’s parents to have it removed, according to the Georgia Court.
Court documents explain that the boy used a “Fat Face” App to make his classmate look obese in photographs, and depicted the girl as racist and licentious by posting profane and obscene comments on the fake Facebook page.
According to the Wall Street Journal, lawyers noted that this decision “marked a legal precedent on the issue of parental responsibility over their children’s online activity.”
And indeed it does.
By ruling that parents in Georgia can be held liable for the failure to rectify the wrongs of their children on social media platforms, Georgia’s Court has opened the door to critical debates surrounding parental liability laws.
While I firmly support the ruling in this specific case, I find it necessary to articulate the issues such a ruling brings to light.
Few would disagree that parents are largely responsible for their children. Many would argue that if a “weapon” a child uses, whether it be a gun, a car or a computer, is registered to an adult, the owner may be subject to criminal charges if it is used to inflict harm on others. But to what extent can we hold the adult responsible?
The premise of punishing a parent for the crime of a child is based on the notion that bad parenting is the underlying cause. But what about external (and potentially negative) influences, such as friends, teachers, extended family members, tutors, and coaches, who have the power to influence the ethics of children.
Similarly, how can parents be expected to supervise and remedy the online behavior of a child at all times?
One could argue that such a ruling makes it more likely for parents to become overbearing “helicopter parents.”
In many families, both parents work full-time. The assumption that parents can afford to take time out to monitor and amend their children’s online activity is idealistic to say the least.
I would argue, rather, that blame should be distributed among those who spend the most time with the child. Yet, in a courtroom, this equal distribution of blame among the various influencers would not stand. Someone must be held accountable. And fingers generally point to parents.
While this specific case does demonstrate signs of parental negligence, parental liability remains a complicated issue.
Yes, someone must be held accountable. But in our increasingly technological, interconnected world, and in families with parents who don’t spend as much time at home as was once traditionally the norm, who is the parent and whom can we really hold accountable?