Court: Cobb parents can be held liable for Facebook defamation

The parents of a Cobb County middle school student who admitted to setting up a fake Facebook account that subjected a classmate to ridicule can be held liable for defamation because they let the page stay up for almost a year, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.

According to Friday’s ruling from Presiding Judge John Ellington, Alexandria (Alex) Boston, through her parents Amy and Christopher Boston, filed suit against classmates Dustin Athearn and Melissa Snodgrass and their parents over the May 2011 incident.

Alexandria, Dustin and Melissa were all 7th-graders at Palmer Middle School at the time, and were in homeroom together when Dustin and Melissa set up the Facebook page. They altered a photo that Dustin had taken of Alexandria with a “fat face” app and posted information suggesting that Melissa held racist viewpoints and was homosexual.

“Some of these postings were graphically sexual, racist or otherwise offensive and some falsely stated that Alex was on a medication regimen for mental health disorders and that she took illegal drugs,” according to the appeals court ruling.

Alexandria soon suspected that Dustin was involved after she recognized the profile photo as one that Dustin had taken at school, and her parents notified the school’s principal.

Principal Cathy Wentworth called Dustin and Melissa to her office, and they admitted their involvement, each signing a written statement, according to the ruling. They were each assigned two days of in-school suspension for their harassment of Alexandria.

Wentworth also called their parents, and sent home paperwork to be signed by them.

In early April 2012, the Bostons filed suit against Dustin and Melissa and their parents, and the bogus Facebook page was finally taken down later that month.

Melissa and her father, Randell Snodgrass, did not respond to the suit, and were found in default, Natalie Woodward, the attorney for the Bostons, told the Fulton County Daily Report.

The attorney for Sandra and Michael Athearn asked Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard for a summary judgment in favor of the Athearns, and Leonard agreed.

The Bostons appealed, and Friday’s ruling reversed Leonard’s decision, sending the case back to the lower court for trial.

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