Online Abuse, Chilling Effects, and Human Rights

in Dubois, E. and Martin-Bariteau, F. (eds.), Citizenship in a Connected Canada: A Research and Policy Agenda, Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 2020

19 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2020 Last revised: 10 Sep 2021

See all articles by Jon Penney

Jon Penney

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

Date Written: June 5, 2020

Abstract

Online harassment, cyberbullying, hate, and other forms of online abuse pose a significant threat to human rights in Canada. Now, the country is at a crossroads: it will face American pressure to adopt a broad immunity model similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or, at long last, take more robust action to address cyberharassment and other online abuse, beyond the piecemeal approach used today. Central to this regulatory debate are concerns and claims about “chilling effects”— that is, the idea that certain regulatory actions may “chill” or deter people from exercising their rights online and in other digital contexts. Such claims have long been raised to oppose measures addressing online abuse, particular speech chill. In this chapter, I argue that such chilling effect claims advanced to oppose measures taken to curb online harassment and abuse neglect other kinds of chilling effects—how such abuse chills the rights of victims. And, drawing on new empirical research on this point, I argue that such legal interventions—like cyberharassment laws—rather than having a chilling effect, can also have a salutary impact on the speech and engagement of victims whose voices have been typically marginalized. I will also discuss the important implications these findings have for Canadian law and policy.

Suggested Citation

Penney, Jonathon, Online Abuse, Chilling Effects, and Human Rights (June 5, 2020). in Dubois, E. and Martin-Bariteau, F. (eds.), Citizenship in a Connected Canada: A Research and Policy Agenda, Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3620520

Jonathon Penney (Contact Author)

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

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA Nova Scotia 02138
Canada

Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

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

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford ( email )

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Oxford, OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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