Your Kids Cyber-bullying? Eventually You Could be Held Responsible.

In my blog series Fighting Fair on the Internet I have been writing in general about the varying problems I see with use of the internet.  After all, given my unique position and area of law I work in, I have had the opportunity to see all kinds of situations that most people never even think about.  Seriously – the good, bad, and the ugly – I see all of it.  And why do I write about it?  Because everyday I see people making stupid mistakes that eventually end up coming back to haunt them in one way or another and because I think education on these issues, raising awareness, plays a key part in reducing the amount of problems I see.

A colleague of mine showed me an NBC Miami article where Central Florida attorney Mark O’Mara was considering writing law that would give law enforcement officials the ability hold parents accountable for the bad things their kids were doing online.  In response to an arrest back in 2013 of two girls in a Florida bullying and suicide investigation, attorney O’Mara wrote on his blog:

The question is this: is their ignorance and apathy about their daughter’s cyber-bullying criminal? Under our current laws, it looks like the answer is “no.” Should that sort of willful blindness or gross negligence be criminal? I think it should, and here’s why: if a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone while using a parent’s gun, the parent can be held responsible. If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided by the parent, how is that different?

If you ask me, I am already all for harsher punishment for internet defamers and harassers so his argument makes sense.  That is, of course, so long as the punishment is reasonable but yet has enough teeth to ensure that parents actually monitor and pay some level of attention to what their kids are doing online.  If you are a parent, you SHOULD be monitoring what your kids are doing – not just to keep yourself out of trouble but to protect your child from all the dangers online (physical, mental, and legal).

After my first presentation to high school students regarding internet use and the repercussions from the same, it was abundantly clear that a lot more education was needed.  I went as far as explaining to the students that after my presentation they probably knew more than their parents did – after all, most of us old enough to have teenagers really didn’t have internet growing up and we especially didn’t have social media.  I encouraged students to go home and talk with their parents about what they learned…because not all advice that kids get from their parents is the best – especially when it comes to online issues.

As some food for thought, according to the Cyberbullying Research Institute, 48 states, plus Washington, DC, have laws that include cyber-bullying or online harassment.  Out of those states, 44 of them have criminal sanctions for cyber-bullying or electronic harassment.  Some information regarding the different state laws on these issues can be found here.  Similarly, just remember that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean “anonymous.”  In most cases, your identifying information is only one or two well written subpoenas away.

Long story short, with the continuing increase of use of the internet, don’t be surprised when laws start being enacted to hold parents liable for the wrongs of their children.  Want to be proactive and learn more for yourself, your kids, or even for a group?  Contact me!  See my contact page for more information.

Have thoughts on this to share?  Share them in the comments below!

 

 

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Fighting Fair on The Internet: Part 4 | Crossing the Line Online – Don’t be THAT Guy!

If you have been keeping up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 you are already aware that I think that most of the issues we see happening today are due to the increased use of technology, the loss of real human connection, and that so many people give opinions that really are nothing more than a “turd trophy” and should be “flushed” down the proverbial toilet.  So many people have developed some odd level of narcissism wherein they feel compelled to step into a conversation, not involving them, and render some kind of a comment, often from a place of needing to be “right,” that really does nothing but perpetuate negativity in one form or another.  This type of action is akin to the bumbling belligerent drunk guy (or girl) at the bar who walks up to a table of friends having a conversation and adding in his/her “two cents” (that’s my sarcastic way of saying the person said something offensive) based on a single sentence that was overheard.  No one really likes THAT person at that point in time.  After all, no one asked stumbling Captain Drunko, who might smell like a soggy bar towel, to come interrupt the conversation to give his polished turd trophy of an opinion…and a lot of times either THAT person ends up getting kicked out of the bar, getting their butt kicked, or THAT person feels like a total d-bag the next day once his/her friends informs him/her of the prior nights “entertainment.”  Maybe you have seen THAT person before.  Maybe you have even been THAT person a time or two.  Perhaps you have been on both sides of that coin in the past.  Regardless, and I pass no judgment here – crap happens, but you know what I am talking about.

Just as there can be consequences for being a belligerent and obnoxious drunk person at a bar (getting 86’d, getting your butt kicked, having the law get involved and possibly having to pay fines, and what I call “fool’s remorse”) there can also be very similar consequences for what you write on the internet.  I am not going to touch on the problems that can arise for people who get online and write a truthful account of a situation; that, along with many other issues, are for later parts to this series.  What I am going to get into here, in a very broad sense, is what can happen when you cross the line when posting online.

GETTING 86’D:  So you spout off and you get “kicked out” of the joint.  This seems like the least of potential problematic ramifications and maybe you don’t care if you get banned from a particular chat room or social media outlet.  In today’s technological world, chances are you’d just find a way around the system anyway.  I personally can think of many options and a lot of them are hard for any typical website administrator to actually detect and keep up with.  Nevertheless, if you have spent a lot of time building up friends, connections, adding photos or other content that may no longer be on your computer/phone, etc. this might be detrimental to you.  That cute picture of you and granny that you posted to your private account before she passed away or that video of that baby’s first steps…GONE FOREVER…if you do something that results in your account being suspended.

GETTING YOUR BUTT KICKED:  Just like the drunkard at the bar who gets out of hand with the wrong people can wind up on the receiving end of a serious butt kicking, when you get online and start spouting off, you never really know who you are spouting off to and what kind of a person they are.  It’s made even worse if you are like most people and don’t control your security settings on your social media very well.  Chances are you give out WAY too much information about yourself.  That is another topic for another day.  Nevertheless, you would be surprised at how much information people can gather from the tid-bits that people just leave open to public access.  What happens if you spout off and the person happens to be some major creeper with bad intentions?  They figure out who you are, who your friend and family are, and eventually where you all work and live.  Are you okay with that?  Okay…for all you tough guys out there saying you’d just meet them at the door and shoot them (hey, I support the Second Amendment too)…let’s be real here.  There is always the possibility that someone could come find you, or your unsuspecting family, and do something.  There is enough chaos on the news to prove that there are crazy people out there willing to go to drastic extremes.  I don’t know that I need to go on here…you all get my point.

THE LAW:  This is the one that I see the most of due to the nature of my position in the legal field.  If you get all worked up about something and then get online to spout off, especially if you embellish the story or otherwise purposefully tell a lie as a way to “get even” with someone for something, chances are, eventually, you are going to have to face some legal consequences for that.  Generally speaking, unless the account you give is opinion or is 100% the truth, what you say “can and will be held against you in a court of law.”  The most common cases in these situations are defamation actions that may be associated with additional causes of action depending on what you say.  Yes, there are defenses to defamation actions (truth and opinion being a few of them) however, so many people seemingly are confused about the difference between a statement of fact and an opinion.  Just because you say “In my opinion…” and then go on to make some sort of allegation doesn’t necessarily make that statement an opinion.  Remember, you have the right to free speech, but that is not absolute.  Just as you can’t run into a movie theater and yell “fire!” you can’t commit defamation without a very real potential for legal consequences…typically expensive ones.  You work hard for your money…do you really want to have to give it to the person, and their attorneys, that you were mad at in the first place?

FOOL’S REMORSE:  We have all done something at one or another that we aren’t exactly proud of.  It’s even worse if whatever occurred happened in public.  There is a reason that a lot of us “older kids” say that we are sure glad that were were “young and dumb” before smart phones and social media were around.  No seriously, it’s true!  Some things just DON’T need to make it to the public!  This whole “social media” thing has become, well, too social.  It  seems like long gone are the days of keeping “dirty laundry” in the hamper where it belongs.  Now, if you have a dispute with someone, chances are, for better or worse, someone, somewhere is going to talk about it on the internet.  Further, now with the ease and convenience of being able to post online under the perceived cloak of “anonymity,” more and more people are openly hanging out their dirty laundry for everyone to see.  Hell hath no furry like the wrath of an angry ex…ex-boyfriend/girlfriend,  ex-husband/wife, ex-business partner, etc.  Instead of dealing with matters in private, people are now dragging their disputes online and saying things, usually based on emotion at the time, that can be very hurtful.  To top it off, once something is up online, depending on where you put it, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.  Well, what happens when your feelings for that person change?  You know, like after you have had the time to calm down and truly get over those feelings?  If you are the “normal” person, whatever that means, you are probably going to feel bad about it…but you may not be able to rectify that situation.  Then, not only is the person that you decided to spew emotional word vomit all over feeling the pain, you are too.  It’s just not worth it!

This obviously has been a brief overview, however, I think it will probably resonate with many.  There are so many people going out and “running at the mouth” online before they really take time to consider the consequences of their actions.  These rants can impact not only you, but those around you.  Remember friends, in this context, temporary solutions can become permanent problems.  If you REALLY need to get something off of your chest, and want to write about it, go “old school” and grab a pen and paper!  Not only will you get the cathartic release from being able to get those emotions out on paper but it will also help keep you from getting into trouble.  You can always toss the paper in the trash when that emotion dissipates…  If that doesn’t work, save yourself a lot of grief by talking to a friend or family member that is going to help you calm down and steer you in a positive direction…  Oh, and watch out for those “friends” that want to instigate and entice you into being THAT guy.  In our bar scenario from above…that would be the friend that likes to order you shot after shot, get you riled up and push you into the crowd just to see “what happens.”  Yeah…that “good time Charlie” probably isn’t the right person to go to when you need this kind of help.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.