Online Abuse, Chilling Effects, and Human Rights

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Online Harassment, Cyberbullying, Online Abuse, Canada, Chilling Effects, Law and Policy, Marginalized Voices


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.