Teens can be mean
By Alex Costello
Oceanside/Island Park Herald
March 19, 2009
According to Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University who specializes in defamation cases, Finkel may have a good case against at least some of the students, but would have a tough time proving the liability of the parents. “It is often difficult for plaintiffs to show the harm, but here, at least one of the allegations, having to do with serious sexual misconduct, would qualify as ‘defamation per se,’ meaning the allegation itself is presumed by the court to have caused harm,” Ku wrote in an e-mail to the Herald. “But overall, [Finkel] has an above-average defamation case with a decent chance of prevailing against some of the defendants for some of the harms. (I doubt she will win the amount she seeks, though, and I think some of the defendants might escape liability.)”
The suit names Facebook because the site published the group’s posts. “If a newspaper goes and publishes something horrific about someone, it’s not only the reporter who’s responsible, it’s also the publisher,” Altschul said. “Facebook is now … I guess you’d call it an Internet publisher.”
Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook, said, “We see no merit to this suit and we will fight it vigorously.” According to Facebook’s terms of service, users are “solely responsible” for content they post on the Web site.
Akilah Folami, another Hofstra law professor who works on Internet law cases, said she believes Facebook is not liable, as has been the ruling in suits involving other Web sites in the past, under the Communications Decency Act. “Which is the applicable act for this whole notion of cyber bullying, which is what this case is about,” Folami said. “How far and to what extent is cyber bullying going to be allowed, either by third parties or by Web sites that post the material, defamatory or otherwise, constituting bullying online? To what extent will the Web site provider be found liable? “Generally, no,” Folami added. “Facebook is not liable for third-party postings on their site because of this law that creates an immunity for Web site providers or distributors of information, as the law calls it.”