Can Cyber Harassment Laws Encourage Online Speech?

2 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2018

See all articles by Jon Penney

Jon Penney

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Osgoode Hall Law School; Harvard Law School; Citizen Lab, University of Toronto

Date Written: December 1, 2017


Do laws criminalizing online harassment and cyberbullying "chill" online speech? Critics often argue that they do. However, this article discusses findings from a new empirical legal study that suggests, counter-intuitively, that while such legal interventions likely have some dampening effect, they may also facilitate and encourage more speech, expression, and sharing by those who are most often the targets of online harassment: women. Relevant findings on this point from this first-of-its-kind study are set out and discussed along with their implications.

Keywords: chilling effects, online harassment, cyberbullying, free speech, first amendment, empirical legal research, cyberharassment, women's rights, gender studies

Suggested Citation

Penney, Jonathon, Can Cyber Harassment Laws Encourage Online Speech? (December 1, 2017). Urs Gasser, Robert Faris, Amar Ashar, and Nikki Bourassa. (eds.), Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online, Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2017-08, Harvard University, Available at SSRN: or

Jonathon Penney (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
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Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

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Harvard Law School ( email )

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Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

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University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7

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