Judge: Fake Profile Not Defamation

A Pennsylvania judge has thrown out a school principal’s lawsuit over a fake MySpace profile. The administrator sued a group of her own students who she says created the profile under her name to make fun of her. She had already disciplined them within the school and turned them over to police but wanted to gain a monetary reward as well.

According to the judge, though, the kids’ creation doesn’t qualify as defamation. The profile, the court said, contained “over-the-top statements” and could not be considered an “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Basically, the profile was an obvious parody, as opposed to a harmful attack.

The judge did give the students a verbal lashing, saying they “should know that appropriating the identity of a teacher or school administrator to create a fraudulent Internet social profile is unacceptable and that engaging in such conduct will have consequences.” Other than that, though, case closed.

It’s an interesting scenario. Sure, most would say that the kids probably shouldn’t have made the profile. Does it, though, warrant a lawsuit and costly court battle — particularly if, as it sounds, it was quite obvious that the profile didn’t really belong to the principal and was not legit? One might contend that the principal did more damage to her reputation by filing the lawsuit than she would have by disciplining the kids, making sure the page was taken down, and moving on.

I guess it’s the modern-day equivalent of a fake love letter from a teacher or an objectionable scrawling on a bathroom stall wall — with the key difference, of course, being the worldwide accessibility. Seemingly, though, it won’t become a criminal offense in this regard, if the precedent set here is any indication.