Online Harassment: A Comparative Policy Analysis for Hollaback! by DLA Piper

Online Harassment: A Comparative Policy Analysis for Hollaback! by DLA Piper

This November 2016 report from DLA Piper offers a comparative analysis on law and policy addressing online harassment in Canada, the U.K., the U.S., and Australia.

From the introductory letter:

Dear reader,

Online harassment has emerged as a key issue for our time and has caused many people, especially women, to self-censor, step back, or remove their online social or professional presence in hopes of avoiding online harassment.

As a response, in January 2016 we launched HeartMob, the first platform of its kind, where users can report the harassment they face and ask a community of bystanders to support them. The project won “Best New Product” at Netroots Nation, the largest progressive conference in the United States, this year.

Our continuing work in this space has led us to ask: what best practices and policies exist to address online harassment? In this quickly changing field, we want to know what people have tried and what has been working. We are especially eager for solutions that could fill the gaps we’ve identified on the ground, such as inadequate (or nonexistent) police training and the increasingly large role social media companies have in defining the line between free speech and hate speech.

We know from our work addressing street harassment that further criminalizing online harassment can present challenges. These laws disproportionately target people of color, and many victims do not file a report either because they fear legal systems, don’t think it will change the outcome, or don’t think they will be believed. Yet still, there are some forms of online harassment so heinous as to warrant criminalization, and there are gaps in existing policy where the law simply has not kept pace with the quickly changing landscape shape of online harassment. Ultimately, it is up to the individual being harassed to determine what the best course of action is for them and their families – and it is up to all of us to advocate for more options.

DLA Piper generously put together this comprehensive report comparing online harassment laws across the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US. We hope that you will find this report useful as you consider and explore where we need to go next to protect the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and others who are increasingly marginalized by online harassment.


Emily May
Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!

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