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Student sues after school uses Facebook bikini pic in seminar

A Georgia student is shocked that a photo she posted to Facebook is used by a school director of technology as an example of how what you post stays public forever. The student wants $2 million.

Is this a snooping case?
WSB-TV Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Should you have ever posted an image of yourself in a bikini on Facebook, it is likely that you are not entirely ashamed of your features.

Should that image also include a cardboard Snoop Dogg, you are perhaps aiming for a touch of humor, or a hope that, one day, Snoop sees it and favors you with his patronage.

However, should you be 17 and a school administrator uses your Facebook bikini image to tell a story of how photos live online forever, you would surely sue for $2 million.

This, at least, is the decision of Chelsea Chaney, who is now a freshman at the University of Georgia but is still so very appalled and says that the school didn't have permission to use the shot.

WSB-TV describes her as being "horrified" and "humiliated." Some might wonder whether she's also "humongously hoping for cash" at the notion that her photo was used in an Internet safety seminar.

But Chaney insisted to WSB-TV: "I cried a lot."

The photo, you see, was controversially titled: "Once it's there, it's there to stay." And many parents, educators and students saw the image.

Chaney seems to be exponentially hurt by the fact that in the unidentified teacher's apology, the explanation was that the image had been "randomly chosen."

One presumes, moreover, that it was randomly available too. Chaney sniffs that she thought only her family and friends could see the image. But thanks to Facebook's cheery complexity, that might also have included friends of friends. Who knows how tightly Chaney had bound her settings?

"It wasn't my main picture," she said. "You had to go looking through it." So many look through it, because so many can.

Her attorney, Pete Wellborn, said he's suing for $2 million, so that the claim is taken seriously. He also declared that he sees breaches of federal and state law -- and the Constitution.

When asked if publicly available photographs aren't, well, exactly that, his response was quite fascinating: "That sounds an awful lot to me like the horrible old cliche of 'well, that's how she dressed, she got what's coming to her.'"

Some might see the horrible old cliche of a lawyer sniffing large bucks and going for them like a bone-espying pooch.

Chaney prefers to offer the analogy of bullying, rather than rape. Surely the presenter knew that by using a photo of someone known to at least some of the attendees, there might be repercussions.

Perhaps, though, that was the misguided point: "See what I could find out about one of you kiddos?"

The Fayette County Schools District won't comment on ongoing litigation but says it has filed a motion for dismissal.

There might be a couple of people wondering what harm was done by showing the image in what was presumably meant to be a helpful context. (Chaney said she tried to settle the matter with the school first, before hiring a lawyer.)

Wellborn insists the school district's director of technology used the image "out of context to suggest that Chelsea is a promiscuous abuser of alcohol."

Oddly, she seems entirely sober in the shot. She's not even holding a drink of any kind.

There might be lateral -- or even literal -- thinkers who wonder about her apparent endorsement of waxing and washing boats, but is there real besmirchment here?

Perhaps there's the suggestion that by simply using this photo, there was an obvious implication that posing next to a cardboard Snoop in a bikini is very bad for your image.

On the other hand, if you want such a photo to be kept private, why sue so that the whole world can see what a promiscuous abuser of alcohol you, well, aren't?

It seems the essence of the escalation here is that Chaney was offended the school didn't ask for her permission to use the shot. Subsequent discussions with the school clearly yielded nothing.

Still, I can't also help wondering about the school district's director of technology. This person chose the image to allegedly scare parents and others into talking to their wayward children about their public displays of, um, wantonness.

This seems like a perfectly innocuous image of a perfectly pleasant human being, experiencing something that might be described as "fun."

A clue might be found in the fact that this picture was allegedly taken on a family vacation.

If a bikini picture with a cardboard Snoop was supposed to shock, sicken, and alter hearts and minds, I wonder what passes for outrage in this part of Georgia.