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Don’t be stupid: Legal Issues with Social Media

Karen Haase Harding & Shultz (402) 434-3000 H & S School Law @KarenHaase

What’s the deal? • Cyberbullying • Sexting • Ignoring Internet Safety

Cyberbullying? Cyberbullying, v: the use of technology such as computers and cell phones to engage in repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.

How Common is Cyberbullying?  one in four students between the ages of 11 and 19 have been the victim of cyberbullying.  Approximately 65 percent of kids know of someone who has been cyberbullied.

So what’s the big deal?

School-Related Consequences  Neb. Rev. Stat. 79-2,137  Definition: “ongoing pattern of physical, verbal or electronic abuse”  Consequences: • Loss of extracurricular privileges • Detentions • Short and Long Term Suspension • Expulsion • Alternative School Assignment

Examples  Seattle, WA.: Students who “liked” Facebook page bullying a classmate all suspended  Kowalski v. Berkeley Schs (2011) • 10-day suspension from school • 90-day “social suspension”

Civil Consequences  Student and parents can be sued Suing for money; no jail time • Homeowners insurance often pays • Judgments can result in home foreclosure and other hardship  Suit can be for: • Intentional infliction of emotional distress • Tortuous interference • Slander

Fulmer v. Swidler (Pa. 2003)  Middle school student created website:“Teacher Sux” • • •

Compared math teacher to Hitler Had picture of her decapitated Asked for contributions toward hit man  Teacher sued  Jury awarded $500,000  Similar suit by principal settled

Boston v. Doe (Ga. 2012)  “Fatbook” Profile

Boston v. Doe (Ga. 2012)  “Fatbook” Profile • • • •

Languages Hobbies Fake stories YouTube Videos Teacher sued  School didn’t punish  Sued creators

D.C. v. R.S. (Cal. 2010)  High school student posted on victim’s website • I want to rip out your f-ing heart and feed it to you. • I've wanted to kill you. • If I ever see you I'm going to pound your head in with an ice pick.  Family sued; defendant said just a joke  Litigation allowed to continue

Criminal Consequences for Cyberbullying  Neb. Rev. Stat. 28-311.01  Terroristic Threats: “threatens to commit any crime of violence … • With the intent to terrorize another • In reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror  Class IV Felony punishable by: • Up to 5 years in prison and/or • $10,000 fine

In re Minor Child (Ala.)  High school students arrested at school for threatening classmate on MySpace • Threatened to beat him up • Said they would plant a bomb in his locker • Said he deserved to die

 Charged with making terroristic threats

State v. Murphy (NE)  Girl’s family disliked defendant  On MySpace he wrote: • He was going to "beat the hell out of a lot of people" • He would be "killing a lot of people.“ • Told girlfriend’s sister he didn’t “want to end up killing her or her kid.”

 Charged with terroristic threats


Sexting? Sexting, v: (a combination of sex and texting) is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones.

How Common is Sexting?  Sexually suggestive photos sent: • 20% overall • 22% girls • 11% young teen girls (ages 13-16) • 18 % boys

How Common is Sexting?  Sexually suggestive messages sent: • 39% of all teens • 37% girls • 40% boys  48% of teens say they have received sexting photos or messages.


Serious Consequences: Jessica Logan

A.H. v. Florida  Boy and girl in romantic relationship  Took pics of themselves engaged in sexual acts  Boy e-mailed to girl  Both charged with producing and distributing child pornography

Criminal Implications of Sexting  Law enforcement reports that Adults prosecuted for possession of child pornography, solicitation and child abuse  Students Prosecuted as well

Iowa v. Canal  Boy and girl friends; not romantic • She asked him to send pic of penis • He complied • Both agreed not erotic  Parents called the cops; boy charged  Jury trial; boy convicted  Appeal rejected by Iowa Supreme Court

Florida v. Alpert  Girlfriend sent pics  He forwarded pic to all contacts  Convicted of distribution of child pornography  On sex offender registry until he’s 43

Criminal Implications Under Nebraska Law  Neb. Rev. Stat. 28-813 et. seq.  Makes sexting (images) a class IV felony for offenders under 19  Class IIIA felony for 19 and up  Both punishable by: • Up to 5 years in prison and/or • $10,000 fine • Require sex offender registration

In re Katrina R.  15 year old texted nude pics to her BF  Was adjudicated “a child who deports herself so as to injure or endanger seriously the morals or health of herself or others” • Placed in legal custody of HHS • 6 months’ probation • Required counseling and community service.

Internet Safety

Wisconsin v. Stancl  High school student posed as a girl, tricked male classmates into sending nude photos  Then blackmailed boys into sex acts • Thirty-one victims • Then took photos of the physical encounters

A.Z. v. Doe (N.J.)  Heroes and Cool Kids Program  Anonymous Parent sends school pics from Facebook  Student sues “John Doe”; serves subpoena  Defendant: no defamation therefore no case  Court: truth is an absolute defense

5 Things to Think About Before Pressing “Send” or “Post”

1. Don’t assume anything you send or post is private  Majority of sexting incidents involve pictures sent to boyfriend/girlfriend  The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has identified 2,100 victims of online porn, ¼ sent the first images themselves  Every message is stored on a server

2. There is no changing your mind in cyberspace  Nothing you send will ever go away  People checking on-line include: • • • •

Parents College recruiters The NFL Creepy pedophiles

3. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it  40% of teens say “pressure from guys” is the reason girls post sexual messages and pictures

4. Consider the recipient’s reaction  40% of teen girls say they sexted “as a joke”  20% of teen boys say they expect to hook up with a girl who sexts them  Nationally, boys have been criminally prosecuted for sending unsolicited sexts

5. Nothing is truly anonymous


Questions? (402) 499-0547 H & S School Law @KarenHaase

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