Denise New, of the improbably named Arkadelphia, Arkansas (improbable to a Philadelphian like myself, at least), is being sued by her 16-year-old son for harassment, largely due to actions taken on Facebook. It’s funny and it makes you think–in a fleeting, smirking sort of way: Just what kinds of rights do parents have over their children’s online identities?
The story has big gaps missing but seems to start with the young Lane New’s Facebook postings. Some of his commentary is, according to his mother, unsavory, with the only given example being an angry, 95 mph drive home after a spat with a girl (which, let’s be honest, is not that unsavory. It combines two of my most indelible memories from that year of my life: being angry at girls and driving too fast). Denise discovered these worrisome posts after realizing that Lane had left himself logged in to Facebook on her computer.
But Denise allegedly didn’t stop there. She reportedly proceeded to read her son’s posts, becoming more disturbed all the while and even engaged in some sort of discussion with her son’s friends. Denise calls this discussion “a conversation between my son, me, and his
personal friends,” while Lane refers to it as “posting things that involve slander and
personal facts about my life.” After that, Denise supposedly changed the password on both Lane’s Facebook account and his email, which is remarkably effective, as it stopped Lane from simply using another device to log in.
Lane, understandably upset, delivered a handwritten letter to his local courthouse, accusing his mother of harassment and invasion of privacy–she’ll face these misdemeanor charges at the Clark County courthouse next month. It’s probably worth noting that Denise does not have custody over her son–the boy moved in with his grandparents after his mother’s “messy divorce” that allegedly left her with undefined mental health problems.
One line jumped out at me in particular: “He left it logged in on my computer. It’s not like I stole his laptop,” Denise said. But I’m not sure her alleged snooping through, writing on, and then blocking her son’s account is necessarily less harmful than stealing a laptop–she is, in effect, accused of stealing a large part of his online identity. Denise claims she acted out of motherly concern, which is certainly a defensible position, but her entire attitude belittles the importance of her son’s Facebook account. She thinks what she did is a 21st century version of reading her son’s diary and forbidding him to see certain friends. Her son sees it as an invasion of privacy, malicious hacking, and online harassment.
Without passing too much judgment, Denise does make one good point: “If I’m found guilty on this it is going to
be open season” on parents. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing–not that this is necessarily a lawsuit-worthy action, but it sparks a conversation on the online rights of minors, who, after all, are some of the most active social networking users on the Internet.
[Image via Wikipedia]