Are Parents Liable For Their Children’s Online Pranks?–Boston v. Athearn

18 11 2014

Dustin Athearn, who was 13, decided to “have some fun” at a “friend’s” expense. He did what any modern teenager does to poke fun at someone: he created a fake Facebook page in their name. Along with a friend Melissa, Dustin created an email address for his target, Alexandria Boston, and using this, created a Facebook account in Alexandria’s name.

He used a picture he took of Alex for the profile photo, but altered it using a “Fat Face” application.

The fake profile then issued friend requests to many classmates, who accepted. Dustin and Melissa also posted items to the account while posing as Alexandria. Some of the posts were graphically sexual, racist, or otherwise offensive (and false).

Alex suspected that Dustin was behind this based on the profile picture Dustin used. Alex, along with her parents, approached the school principal. The principal investigated and suspended Dustin and Melissa for two days for their actions. Dustin’s parents were also informed. The parents disciplined Dustin by “forbidding him for one week from seeing his friends after school,” but otherwise did not take any action. Significantly, they did not force Dustin to remove the Facebook page, which stayed up for almost a full year following the suspension. The page was finally taken down after the Bostons filed their lawsuit. Alex sued Dustin and his parents. In the lawsuit, Dustin’s parents were granted summary judgment.

Parental liability for Facebook use:


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