A few months ago a friend asked if I was aware of social media liability insurance. Having read so many articles about parents suing other parents for the misdeeds of their children on social media – I certainly understood the need. However, I hadn’t actually come across companies that offered such policies.
While researching these issues I came upon this video from South Africa of a company offering such social media liability insurance. My guess is that you’ll see similar TV spots here in the states in the not too distant future. Moreover, this illustrates the need for such insurance/
Still not convinced?
The recent case of Michelle Carter, who was convicted of killing her boyfriend by encouraging his suicide through her text messages and phone conversation perhaps best illustrates the need. This becomes even more critical given that so many of these teens are – suffering from depression and anxiety.
In a recent article in the New York Time, Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge and Harvard Law professor, suggested “This puts all the things that you say in the mix of criminal responsibility.”
At the conclusion of Ms. Carter’s trial, Judge Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County Juvenile Court announced, “This court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to get back in the truck constituted wanton and reckless conduct.”
Although the case will most certainly be sent to appeals, it illustrates the issues we as parents must face. Just as there is liability if our child mishandles a car and injures or kills someone – there is also liability related to the words and actions our children take online. Given that in our recent survey only about 50% of parents attempt to manage and monitor their child’s use of social media – perhaps real, civil and criminal consequences will change such mindsets.
While some parents might also be quick to seek civil actions against those that have denigrated their child online, they must also be certain that their child isn’t hiding a second digital personality from them. Such was the case way back in 2006 involving Danny Cuesta, a Spanish teachers at a private high school. Mr. Cuesta pleaded guilty and was convicted of luring Melissa, a 15 year old female student into several sexual acts.
The student sued the school for: “repeated sexual injury and assault,” “nightmares and sleep deprivation,” “emotional distress,” “alienation of affections,” and “loss of enjoyment of life.”
Sadly for the student and her family, the school’s lawyer found two Facebook pages replete with posts and pictures of the student with her boyfriend drinking, partying, rock climbing and many other joyous life adventures. Thus the judge found no emotional distress, alienation of affection or loss of enjoyment of life. The school district was saved by Melissa’s own social media posts. Had Melissa’s parents been aware of their child’s social media activity — time, money and embarrassment could have been avoided.
Then there is the 2011 case of Susan McNair. According to NewsOn6.com in Oklahoma, Susan McNair, a parent of a child who attends the Marlow School District in Oklahoma, was sued by the district’s superintendent, George E. Coffman. In his suit, Mr. Coffman suggested that Ms. McNair’s Facebook comments were, “to embarrass, harass and annoy [Coffman] for the purpose of causing [Coffman] to resign his position as Superintendent.” Mr. Coffman was eventually awarded a $75,000 settlement in the case. Ms. McNair’s inability to control her “tongue” on social media was all the evidence the court needed.
As we prepare for the upcoming school year, please speak to your children about proper social media behavior. Teen suicide begins to grow once school begins in August and runs through November — before spiking after Christmas as is seen here in a chart from Montgomery, Ohio. However, this chart generally reflects every county in our country.
Understand that Michelle Carter will not be the last case of a teen’s digital words causing the world of another parent to unravel.