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Charles B. Sears Law Library SUNY Buffalo Law School

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Good Example of a Horrible Warning?

Posted on: | by Christine Anne George |


In one of my favorite books, a wise and perhaps slightly disturbed character offers this adage: If you can’t be a good example then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning. It’s interesting to think about, but seems like it could be kind of messy to put those two diametrical opposites into practice. Especially if you don’t think that your actions constitute the horrible warning, but school officials do.

Back in Georgia in 2011, a Fayette County school administrator, Curtis Cearley, gave a presentation about “the dangers and often permanent nature of Internet postings.” So far so good, right? Wrong. After showing a cartoon where a mother had to explain her old Facebook profile where her hobbies include bad boys and jello shots to her child, Cearley’s presentation featured a photo of then 17-year-old senior Chelsea Chaney, wearing a bikini and standing next to a replica of Snoop Dogg (as he was known then).  The picture was said to have the caption “Once it’s there, it’s there to stay” and Cearley identified Chaney by name.

Chaney claims that being forced into the “horrible warning” category damaged her reputation and is now suing Cearley and the school district for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy and is asking for $2 million in damages.

As this case heads into federal court I can’t help but notice there seem to be horrible warnings all over the place with this one. The first is students posting pictures that are publicly available and the second is school administrators trolling students’ profiles.

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