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U of C law professor publishes article on online shaming

By Tina Shaygan, February 28 2017 —

University of Calgary Faculty of Law professor Emily Laidlaw recently published an article exploring online privacy, particularly regarding free speech and human rights.

The article — “Online Shaming and the Right to Privacy” — was published in the academic journal Laws.

Laidlaw said she was intrigued by the problem of online shaming.

“I wanted to look at it through a particular lens. I wanted to explore what exactly is happening online when people are being shamed,” Laidlaw said.

Beyond illuminating the weaknesses in the law regarding online privacy, the article argues that “there is a crucial difference between a desire to wrap everyone in a bubble and create a right to be treated nicely as opposed to recognizing a right to be free from assaults on one’s dignity and identity.”

Laidlaw said her research helps illustrate legal weaknesses related to online shaming.

“At the moment, we have traditional conceptions of what privacy means but what is happening to people is different,” she said. “What we need to do is revisit the laws to see how they should be better shaped and developed to better address the harm of what is happening to people [online].”

At the same time, Laidlaw said her research illustrates that dealing with online shaming is sometimes out of the bounds of what the law can do.

“A lot of the time, people say this should be illegal, this is horrible, how can people post such terrible things online? Sometimes the answer isn’t through the law,” she said. 

Laidlaw completed her PhD at the London School of Economics in 2011, focusing on the intersection of human rights and online regulations. She said the issue of online shaming was a natural next step for her research.

“The wall you keep coming up against at the moment is the issue of online abuse,” she said. “We have this major social problem. You can’t have a female politician who comments on the world online without being subject to horrendous abuse.”

Laidlaw said the current legal structures aren’t working and there is a need to reimagine how these areas are approached.

Laidlaw has presented her research in Paris, New York and throughout the United Kingdom. She also recently presented a seminar at the U of C regarding internet regulation and privacy.

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