Parents who don't already pay close attention to their kids' Facebook posts may want to start. Georgia's Court of Appeals says parents may be liable for their children's online activity after a couple didn't force their son to delete a defamatory Facebook profile, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to court documents, the boy and another student created the fake page depicting a female classmate back in 2011. The page allegedly claimed the girl was a lesbian; falsely described illegal drug use, promiscuous behavior, and racist views; and featured an altered and unattractive profile photo, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The girl's parents, Amy and Christopher Boston, complained to the students' school, which handed out an in-school suspension. But when the page was still live 11 months later, the Bostons decided to sue.
Sandra and Michael Athearn had grounded their son for a week after the school notified them about the page. But "the Athearns were negligent in failing to compel [their son] to remove the Facebook page once they were notified of its existence" Judge John J. Ellington writes in the decision. Therefore, "a jury could find that the Athearns' negligence proximately caused some part" of the girl's victimization. The case likely marks a legal precedent, says Edgar S. Mangiafico Jr., who represented the boy's parents and knows of no other case in which a court found parents liable for their kids' online behavior. The court did, however, dismiss one part of the suit arguing the Athearns were negligent in allowing the page to be posted at all. Still, Mangiafico Jr. says he'll appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. The other student who allegedly helped create the page and her parents were also sued, but did not respond and were found in default. (Read more lawsuit stories.)