Cyber Bullies: Former High School Student Sues Other Students, Parents, and Facebook for Trash Talk

thumb_computer_assault_2Facebook continues to be an engine for much needed litigation opportunity for distressed lawyers. In the most recent lawsuit, Denise Finkel, a former student at Oceanside High School,Civil is suing four former classmates, their parents, and Facebook for $3 million for alleged cyber bullying.

Civil lawsuits have always been a more viable option than criminal charges as shown in the Lori Drew case.

This case, however, appears to be kid on kid trash talk. With Facebook, such trash talk has become a more serious matter.

Finkel’s lawyer, Mark Altshul, says the former classmates creates a password protected site to destroy Finkel’s reputation, allegedly posts comments that she had AIDS, was an intravenous drug user, and had “inappropriate conduct with animals.” The purpose, according to Altshul, was to make Finkel “an unwanted soul.”

The defendants — Michael Dauber, Jeffrey Schwartz, Leah Herz and Melinda Danowitz — all graduated in 2008 with Finkel from Oceanside High School.

Finkel is now a student at the University of Albany.

These sites create an open forum and are generally not liable for the content of the posts. Unlike the Drew case of parents acting like malicious children, these were malicious minors engaging in classic (though reprehensible) playground trash talking. The damage caused by such attacks has now been magnified by the availability of these sites.

These cases highlight the protection given to Internet companies like Craigslist from defamation lawsuits. Under a federal law and the ruling in Zeran. The Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of the 1996 Act gives protections to online service providers from being sued for the actions of others. That section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Kenneth Zeran sued America Online for negligence. On April 25, 1995, an unidentified person posted a message on an AOL bulletin board advertising “Naughty Oklahoma T-shirts.” It was a prank that featured offensive products about the Oklahoma bombing and told interested buyers to call “Ken” at Zeran’s home phone number in Seattle. Zeran notified AOL in a series of telephone calls and letters about the bogus posting. But AOL allegedly refused to take down the material. Then the prankster put more messages on the site from Ken, not only producing more calls but leading an announcer for the Oklahoma radio station KRXO to read the messages and encouraged listeners to call Zeran.

The Fourth Circuit held that Section 320 blocked any liability, even if AOL was informed of the falsity and harmfulness of the information. It was a very harsh decision and it is not clear that the federal law was truly intended to protect these companies for any liability under any circumstance for false and harmful postings.

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9 thoughts on “Cyber Bullies: Former High School Student Sues Other Students, Parents, and Facebook for Trash Talk”

  1. Any idiot who is bullying is probably the biggest coward. This person needs to display physical strength because internally he is a quivering fool and feels unsure of himself inside. So really it is sort of humiliating for the bullies because they’re letting everyone know that they have to compensate somehow for the little “pe–s” between their legs. If he was a true confident guy, he wouldn’t need to prove anything at all.

  2. The claim against Facebook will fail, and rightly so. The claims against the students and their parents can be pursued under traditional common law tort theories of libel, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I believe that a few well-publicized lawsuits based on good facts is one of the best ways to deal with tortious behavior over the internet.

  3. With a red-face I must admit to being on Facebook. I joined because of a movement to make Sam Seder the host of MSNBC’s 10:00pm time slot. Last night I spent 15 minutes there looking up old acquaintances and lovers that I had no wish to communicate with. I can see how people could become caught up in it, but frankly it bores me silly.

    In truth I think that all these sites represent the infant stage of our culture to be, for better or worse. I admit that it is a cultural revolution that I have no wish to take part in any more than I’d have a Blackberry or IPhone. This is more a comment on my age and sensibility rather than on those who use them, like Buddha. I don’t want THAT much contact with my friends, loved ones and financial state. My cellphone is for emergencies, not palaver.

    With the case at hand on its’ face the conduct of the four former students is reprehensible. However, isn’t this an example of libel and is that, or can that be the basis of the law suit? Cases like this are going to assume more importance as our future of total communication takes hold. Guidelines need to be established, but as an admitted non-participant in the total IT revolution I have no idea what they should be.

    M.Spindell, curmudgeon in training.

  4. As a brief defense of Facebook and Myspace: both get used by musicians as free starter web pages. Most of the groups I play with have a regular web page, and one on either of those two sites. These are professional groups, one of which (a big band) specializes in society gigs. You just can never have enough publicity.

    I do think that JT hit the nail on the head, this kind of vicious gossip went on long before the internet was around, but has mutated into something worse. I think that web-pages tend to lengthen the rumors shelf life, also seeing something in writing seems to add validity to it that might not otherwise exist.

  5. They are rather silly.
    My niece is constantly updating her facebook and myspace status from her cell phone. I just want to chuck her phone out the window and run over the darn thing

  6. lol

    Not only “no”, but “never”. 😀 And MySpace? Fuggedaboudit! No one is interested, least of all me, about my status on changing the cat liter. Well . . . the cats are interested but they don’t need a computer to tell me when the box is dirty. Besides, without thumbs, their typing skills are pretty deficient.

  7. Sure Buddha…that’s why you sent me a request to be your friend the other day!! It’s okay to admit that you have a Facebook page!! 🙂

  8. Facebook is ridiculous.

    That is all I have to say about that.

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