When Law Frees Us to Speak

By Danielle Keats Citron & Jonathon W. Penney
April 27, 2019

A central aim of online abuse is to silence victims. That effort is as regrettable as it is successful. In the face of cyberharassment and sexualprivacy invasions, women and marginalized groups retreat from online engagement. These documented chilling effects, however, are not inevitable. Beyond its deterrent function, the 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 cyberharassment law’s salutary effects on women’s online expression. We then consider the implications of those findings for victims of sexual-privacy invasions.