There have been many bad laws that have been proposed in the name of protecting children. And when those proposed laws collide with adults’ rights’ or wishes, the conflict can be intense. Now a situation in Maryland reminds us that sometimes, children may, indeed, need protection – even from the consequences of their own actions. But what will the fallout be?
The facts of the case are not yet clear, but it involves a video tape of a 14-year old student having sex on a Baltimore public school property. WJZ has been all over the story since the father of the student contacted them to express outrage that the video had gone viral on the Internet. He alleges that his daughter was bullied into having sex and had no knowledge she was being taped. Nor did she ever consent to being taped or having the tape uploaded, he claims.
I will give YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter the benefit of the doubt that they acted quickly once they became aware of the situation. But is it too easy to upload privacy-invasive or reputation-destroying videos to the Internet? I have no doubt that some will use this case to argue “yes.” There will likely be more calls for regulation or changes to try to prevent this type of situation, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this, and sadly, I don’t think it will be the last time.’
Apart from issues about sex, teens are simply not getting the important messages about privacy.
In another case in Maryland – one seemingly involving consensual sex in a high school auditorium at Milford Mill Academy – three teenage students have been charged with perverted sex acts and indecent exposure. No one has been charged in that case with uploading video of those acts to the Internet, although there have been unconfirmed rumors that there is a videotape that was uploaded.
So what do we, as a society, do?
For the past few years, we’ve read a lot about anti-bullying programs in schools. We’ve heard a lot about teaching youth to respect their own privacy and to use the Internet safely. Sadly, and although educating is always a good first step, I doubt any of those programs will sufficiently prevent this type of thing – youth consciously choosing to upload a video that invades someone else’s privacy or that damages their reputation in ways that may impact their future. I’m beginning to think maybe we also need to incorporate courses on law in middle school and high school curricula that include defamation, criminal invasion of privacy, and statutory rape. And I think we need to be very clear that even if students try to hide their tracks if they engage in inappropriate or illegal online conduct, they will be identified and caught – and prosecuted.
I do not think self-regulation by businesses has failed. It’s the self-regulation by users that has failed, and we need to be mindful of that before proposing any new laws. Attempts to make businesses responsible for protecting users from themselves puts the responsibility on the wrong parties. But somehow, somehow, we do need to protect people from invasion of privacy and reputation harm because some teenager or adult decided it would be funny or vindictive to upload a video of someone else.