Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online.

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents
Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

In what many attorneys call a first-of-its-kind ruling, a Georgia appeals court says parents can be held liable for what their children put online — in this case specifically, how the children bullied a classmate on Facebook.

The case involves three seventh-graders from Cobb County, Georgia, just outside Atlanta.

Lawyers argued two students used a "fat face" app like you see here to alter a picture of a classmate, created a fake Facebook account and then posted several messages accusing her of racism, mental disorders and illegal drug use. (Video via YouTube / SmartKeitai and ABC)

But despite a two-day in-school suspension for the children who created the fake Facebook page, it stayed up for nearly a year until the social media network took it down at the urging of the girl's parents.

The court ruling handed down Oct. 10 reads, "Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers, for an additional eleven months, we conclude that a jury could find that the [parents'] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl]."

While the court ruled on the case a week ago, the story started getting national media attention several days later as attorneys acknowledged the larger implications. This appears to set a legal precedent.

Several states have set up parental responsibility laws for what their children do in cases like hosting a party where alcohol is served. (Video via CBS)

But attorneys for both sides of this case told The Wall Street Journal they couldn't find any previous similar cases involving online activity, and the girl's attorney said this shows in "certain circumstances, when what is being said about a child is untrue and once the parents know about it, then liability is triggered."

To be fair, the courts didn't rule parents can be held responsible for unknowingly being caught in this situation — just that they allowed the Facebook page to stay up after they were notified. The ruling shows the school sent a referral form home, which was signed by the children's parents.

The Journal reports the appeals court dismissed the part of the lawsuit that would've held the two sets of parents liable for allowing the page to be posted in the first place. Attorneys for those parents say they'll appeal this ruling to Georgia's Supreme Court.

This video includes images from Getty Images.