Alex Boston, a 14-year-old girl from Georgia, has filed suit against two other teenagers and their parents for libel after the pair impersonated her online, depicting her as a sexually active, marijuana-smoking racist.
Court documents allege that the two were classmates of Boston who opened a Facebook account containing racist video. Additionally, the two posted messages on the walls of Boston’s friends in which she appeared to admit to abusing drugs and having sex. All these characterizations were untrue and the defendants knew it, according to Boston’s attorney, Natalie Woodward.
Boston first came across the Facebook page last year. She says that the account, which appeared to belong to her and to reflect her views, was very upsetting. The fake page was so well executed that Boston’s other classmates believed that they represented the real Boston, and she was subjected to “hatred, contempt and ridicule” as a result. In her suit, she accuses the defendants of intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as defamation.
Boston’s parents initially went to school officials, who were unable to help because Georgia law does not allow schools to punish students who bully other students off-campus. Internet bullying initiated outside of school does not meet the Georgia requirements for on-campus bullying.
Local police were also unable to help because Georgia had no applicable law against cyberbullying. They suggested the Bostons ask Facebook to close the account and remove the page. When Facebook failed to take action, the Bostons brought suit against the teenagers behind the hurtful account. Ironically, once news of the lawsuit was featured on CNN, Facebook removed the page.
According to Woodward, the attack was unexpected. The defendants reportedly told adults from school that they simply didn’t like Boston.
Federal courts have historically toed a fine line in such cases. In a case from 2005, a federal judge ruled that a school in Pennsylvania erred when they suspended a student for creating a MySpace page that parodied the school’s principal but didn’t disrupt school. However, a similar suspension was upheld by a federal judge in a West Virginia case involving a student who implied through a website that another student had an STD.