An assistant principal at Clark High School in San Antonio, Texas, has filed a civil lawsuit against two 16-year-old students and their parents, claiming defamation, libel, negligence and negligent supervision. The suit charges the teens took teacher-torment to a whole new level in cyberspace and left the school administrator "devastated."
With MySpace — the social-networking Web site that now claims more than 100 million users — as their weapon of choice, junior Benjamin Schreiber and sophomore Ryan Todd launched an online attack against Anna Draker by establishing a bogus account in the educator's name, according to the suit. The San Antonio Express-News reports that the students used Draker's name and lifted a picture from the school's Web site to create the offending MySpace page.
Draker didn't learn of the page until April; the page was posted for a month before she contacted MySpace and asked that it be removed.
"By that point, she had no idea how many people in the world had seen it," Draker's lawyer, Murphy Klasing, told the Express-News, adding that the page included lewd, defamatory and obscene comments, pictures and graphics. "We do know it had been seen by numerous individuals, including many students at Clark."
The suit, which also names the boys' parents, Lisa Schreiber and Lisa and Steve Todd, seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, lost wages and court costs. The ersatz MySpace page further identified Draker, who is married with children, as a lesbian.
Officials at the school investigated the matter and later suspended Schreiber for three days, according to the paper. Todd was asked to attend a parent conference regarding the incident. Local police examined the complaint, as well, and the detective's findings were presented to the Bexar County District Attorney's office. A spokesperson from that office would not release specific details regarding the case, but did reveal that juvenile charges were pending against one of the students. Those charges, retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information, are both third-degree felonies.
Klasing told the Express-News that his client hopes to teach the two students a lesson. "Primarily, her goal here is accountability," he said.
A similar case was reported in April, when police began investigating a fake MySpace page that attacked a Minnesota middle school teacher. That page included child pornography as well as slurs about religion and sexual orientation (see "Cops Investigating Fake MySpace Page That Defamed Minnesota Teacher"). The Draker incident also resembles a case reported in August in which Danny Presley, the principal of Carroll Senior High School in Grapevine, Texas, was contacted by police when they were informed that a faux MySpace page had been set up in his name. The page included Presley's picture, "vulgar material" and claims that the principal was bisexual. Police have yet to determine who is behind the Presley page.
Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and an expert on Internet usage, told the Express-News that the Draker case will be one to watch. "This is the most serious, most concerted effort that I've seen a teacher or a school administrator undertake involving a posting on MySpace," he said.
"This is pretty remarkable. These technologies are incredibly public and the potential for harm is much greater simply because these comments and criticisms are being disseminated potentially around the world," he added. "It's an issue of scale that's particularly difficult to contend with."