Texas Assistant Principal Sues Students and Parents Over Defamatory Profile on MySpace.com
By John Ottaviani
High school students have been battling with and lampooning their assistant principals for generations. Last Spring, students in San Antonio, Texas, applied 21st century technology to the practice, when they allegedly set up a profile for their female assistant principal on MySpace.com, using her name and picture as if she has posted the information herself. But these students went too far. The profile contained the assistant principal’s name and picture, as well as other “lewd, defamatory and obscene comments, pictures and graphics,” including the false statement that she is a lesbian.
The profile was up for about a month before another teacher at the school told the assistant principal about the website. Apparently, MySpace took the site down as soon as it was notified that the assistant principal did not post the information. After an internal investigation, the school identified at least two students as either creating or assisting in creating the webpage.
According to an article in MySanAntonio.com, one of the students was suspended for three days, and the other had to attend a parent conference. After the police department was called in to investigate, criminal felony charges were also filed against one of the students.
It doesn’t end there. The assistant principal has now filed a complaint in Texas state court alleging causes of action against the students for defamation, libel per se, and gross negligence. The assistant principal has also sued the parents of the students, alleging that they negligent breached their duty to the assistant principal to supervise the activities of their children as they access the Internet. The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, lost wages, damages for emotional distress and mental anguish, and reimbursement of medical expenses.
The assistant principal’s primary goal is accountability, according to her attorney. She wants the students to face consequences.
Interestingly, the complaint does not name MySpace.com as a defendant. This could be a recognition by the assistant principal’s attorney that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would probably absolve MySpace.com from liability in this situation.
As I have argued previously, I have a hard time seeing that MySpace.com has any legal duty here other than to take down offensive content when notified. This case may, however, be the first to test my argument that it is the parents of teenagers who are better situated to protect their children and others from harm that their children may cause with their computers.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.