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Teen sues school for $2 million over misuse of Facebook bikini photo

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Detailed by Atlanta’s WSB-TV news station, University of Georgia freshman Chelsea Chaney is suing the school district of her former high school after a photo pulled from her Facebook page was used in a district-wide presentation on what not to do on social media accounts. 17 years old at the time, the photo shows Chaney wearing a bikini while posing next to a cardboard cutout of rapper and singer-songwriter Snoop Lion. In addition to the photo, the Powerpoint slide included her Facebook profile name underneath the photo and the title of slide was “Once It’s There, It’s There to Stay.”

Chelsea-ChaneyIt appears the presentation was referencing the dangers of posting written or visual content online that could potentially be damaging to someone’s reputation. The slide mentioned tools that could locate old content including Internet archive The WayBack Machine, cached pages stored by search engines like Google and search engines within social media sites.

According to documentation filed with the court, the following slide showed a cartoon of a daughter that’s embarrassed of her’s mother’s Facebook page because it lists “bad boys, jello shooters, and body art” as hobbies.

Seeking two million dollars in damages for using the photo in the presentation, the lawsuit claims that the presentation branded Chaney as a “sexually-promiscuous abuser of alcohol,” essentially shaming her at the time. Chaney, in attendance during the presentation, left immediately as she was “embarrassed” and “horrified.” According to Chaney and her father, the picture was taken during a family vacation and she subsequently posted it on her Facebook page during the vacation.

Curtis-Cearley-slideWhen asked about the photo’s use, Chaney said “It never crossed my mind that this would ever, ever happen to me.” The school claims that the choice of the picture was completely random and chosen by Curtis R. Cearley, the director of technology for the Fayette County Schools. 

Chaney claims that the privacy settings on her Facebook page were limited to her friends and she has no idea how Cearley was able to locate the picture within her Facebook profile. According to Chaney, the school did not ask permission to use her photo within the presentation.

After the presentation, the school did issue an apology letter to the family, however Chaney doesn’t believe the apology was sincere. Within the letter, Cearley wrote “In order to stress the public and permanent nature of the media, and in an attempt to make the presentation as relevant as possible, it included a photo of a Fayette County student, your daughter.”

When asked about the school’s actions, family attorney Pete Wellborn said “Their idea that putting something on Facebook gives them a license to steal it and Carte blanche to do with it what they did is wrong ethically, it’s wrong morally and it’s absolutely wrong legally.” Admittedly, the dollar figure on the lawsuit is set extremely high so the school would take note of the legal action. According to Wellborn, no legal action would have been necessary if the school simply held another assembly about respecting the rights of others when it comes to content posted on the Internet. 

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Mike Flacy
By day, I'm the content and social media manager for High-Def Digest, Steve's Digicams and The CheckOut on Ben's Bargains…
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