The Myth of the Chilling Effect

41 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2021 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022

See all articles by Suneal Bedi

Suneal Bedi

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business

Date Written: February 27, 2021


The chilling effect — historically associated with protecting First Amendment rights — has more recently become a tool used to argue against social media platform (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) policies of restricting content. The 70-year-old principle invalidates regulations if censoring the unwanted speech will also deter or “chill” related but valuable speech. Despite its longstanding use and recent significance, little to no empirical work has been done on whether this phenomenon exists.

This Article finally fills this gap. It employs an empirical study using social media speech restrictions analyzed with text analysis to conclude that, in the social media context, the chilling effect has little to no impact on the content of the message; at most, it subtly alters the specific style or tone used. This study therefore confirms the existence of the phenomenon but simultaneously raises serious concerns about its usefulness as a guiding constitutional legal principle when assessing speech regulations.

Keywords: first amendment, social media, empirical, text analysis, chilling effect, speech

Suggested Citation

Bedi, Suneal, The Myth of the Chilling Effect (February 27, 2021). Kelley School of Business Research Paper No. 2021-14, 35 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 267, Available at SSRN: or

Suneal Bedi (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business ( email )

1309 East Tenth Street
Indianapolis, IN 47405-1701
United States

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