When Law Frees Us to Speak

21 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2019 Last revised: 4 Nov 2019

See all articles by Danielle Keats Citron

Danielle Keats Citron

University of Virginia School of Law

Jon Penney

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

Date Written: January 2, 2019


A central aim of online abuse is to silence victims. That effort is as regrettable as it is successful. In the face of cyber harassment and sexual privacy invasions, women and marginalized groups retreat from online engagement. These documented chilling effects, however, are not inevitable. Beyond its deterrent function, law has an equally important expressive role. In this article, we highlight law’s capacity to shape social norms and behavior through education. We focus on a neglected dimension of law’s expressive role—its capacity to empower victims to express their truths and engage with others. Our argument is theoretical and empirical. We present new empirical research showing cyber harassment law’s salutary effects on women’s online expression. We consider the implication of those findings for victims of sexual privacy invasions.

Keywords: online abuse, cyber harassment, expressive role of law, online engagement, sexual privacy, expressive theory, cyber civil rights,

Suggested Citation

Citron, Danielle Keats and Penney, Jonathon, When Law Frees Us to Speak (January 2, 2019). Fordham Law Review, 2019, Vol. 87, at p. 2317 (Forthcoming), U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3309227

Danielle Keats Citron (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Jonathon Penney

Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7

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