Despite the vast majority of adolescents living and breathing social media, it still seems that many teenagers are either unaware or unconcerned about how information shared online can be accessed publicly and used against them. A recent case* heard by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia drives this point home, as well as how some adults are equally ignorant of when to share potentially embarrassing or damaging content found on social sites.
How One Photograph Can Cause a Whole Lot of Trouble
Not unlike many young girls these days, a teenage student attending school in Georgia posted pictures of herself in a bikini to her Facebook page, which had privacy settings that allowed both her friends and ‘friends of friends’ to access her postings, pictures, etc. The photo was then downloaded and saved by an employee of her school, who then used it as an example during a school-wide assembly of how accessible, and damaging, information shared on Facebook could be. The Georgia school official thought this would be a good way of showing real life examples of students over-sharing as a way to demonstrate the lack of privacy on social platforms. The official had accessed the student’s Facebook page as ‘a friend of a friend’ and though the intent was to teach a lesson, the parents felt it was an invasion of privacy and sued the school.
Social Media & The Law: When Is Over-Sharing Illegal?
Though the student and her parents viewed the school assembly over-sharing as an invasion of privacy, the courts sided with the school district. The U.S. District Court found that the student had no reasonable expectation of privacy because her Facebook privacy was set to allow for “friends of friends” viewing and she had willingly posted the photo to her page. The court noted that the expectation of privacy does not protect an individual from public embarrassment.
Lessons Learned by All
What lessons are hoped to be learned by this? One, students should not share pictures of themselves or make comments they wouldn’t want displayed to their entire school. For me, I take it a step further with my own teenagers and advise them not to post anything they wouldn’t want a potential university, employer, coach or family member to view. Secondly, if you are a school employee, don’t use student examples that could cause harm or raise liability issues on a school wide level. Duh. Really, what was the school official thinking posting a photo that could so obviously raise privacy issues, embarrass the student and be in questionable taste; after all, the female was of minor age and ‘in a state of undress,’ as the court documents politely described the photo. Lastly, parents, if your teen is foolish enough to post incriminating or potentially embarrassing photos they wouldn’t want to go public, let your child learn from the experience instead of making a court case out of it.
If you were a parent of this student, how would you have handled the situation? If you are a parent of a teen, share this information with them.
Also, while we’re speaking of privacy, Facebook has just changed their settings so that all profiles and timelines are now searchable. Make sure to keep your privacy settings updated if you don’t want all your information available to the public at large. Read more from AllFacebook to learn more about the changes and how to update your Facebook privacy settings.
*Chaney v. Fayette Cnty. Pub. Sch. Dist., N.D. Ga., No. 3:13-cv-00089.