Online Shaming and the Right to Privacy
Emily B. Laidlaw
Faculty of Law, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada;
Academic Editor: Carys J. Craig
Received: 1 November 2016; Accepted: 21 January 2017; Published: 8 February 2017
This paper advances privacy theory through examination of online shaming, focusing in
particular on persecution by internet mobs. While shaming is nothing new, the technology used
for modern shaming is new and evolving, making it a revealing lens through which to analyze
points of analytical friction within and between traditional conceptions of privacy. To that end, this
paper ﬁrst explores the narrative and structure of online shaming, identifying broad categories of
shaming of vigilantism, bullying, bigotry and gossiping, which are then used throughout the paper
to evaluate different angles to the privacy problems raised. Second, this paper examines shaming
through three dominant debates concerning privacy—privacy’s link with dignity, the right to privacy
in public places and the social dimension of privacy. Certain themes emerged from this analysis.
A common feature of online shaming is public humiliation. A challenge is to differentiate between a
humbling (rightly knocking someone down a peg for a social transgression) and a humiliation that
is an affront to dignity (wrongly knocking someone down a peg). In addition, the privacy concern
of shamed individuals is not necessarily about intrusion on seclusion or revelation of embarrassing
information, but rather about the disruption in their ability to continue to participate in online spaces
free from attack. The privacy interest therefore becomes more about enabling participation in social
spaces, enabling connections and relationships to form, and about enabling identity-making. Public
humiliation through shaming can disrupt all of these inviting closer scrutiny concerning how law can
be used as an enabling rather than secluding tool.
Keywords: internet; technology; shame; abuse; privacy
This paper examines the privacy implications of online shaming, in particular the issues raised
concerning persecution by internet mobs. In the situations explored in this paper “the shamed”
are mocked, bullied or otherwise harassed by other internet users sharing thousands of messages,
posting photos or otherwise commenting directly to or about the shamed. Sometimes the shamed
have committed a social transgression and the internet mobs use shame sanctions to enforce the norms
of the online community: to condemn offensive or hateful posts, rein in gossip, expose lies, and so
on. At other times, the shamed have not necessarily committed a social transgression, but are targets
nonetheless, being doxed,
or otherwise exposed ([
], p. 9)
(i.e., revenge pornography) or
harassed (i.e., stalking, blackmail, threats, and fake proﬁles) in a way that shames them. In the messy
world in which we live, often the scenario for the shamed is a mix of the above.
The goal with this paper is to use the modern phenomenon of online shaming to illuminate
weaknesses in dominant debates concerning privacy. Shaming is nothing new. Various historical
1Doxing is when people search for private information about an individual and then reveal it online.
2Swatting is when emergency services are called to a person’s house based on a false report.
3Jacquet discusses exposure as being “the essence of shaming” (, p. 9).
Laws 2017,6, 3; doi:10.3390/laws6010003 www.mdpi.com/journal/laws
Laws 2017,6, 3 2 of 26
references have been used to describe an episode of public shaming: a lynching, the stocks and
pillories, ﬂoggings and scarlet letters [
Indeed, there is much commonality between modern
online shaming and the shaming of offenders in the stocks and pillories in public squares. However,
technology is evolving such that shaming is deployed differently, making it a useful lens though which
to stress-test traditional conceptions of privacy. Using three common debates about privacy—privacy’s
link with dignity, the right to privacy in public places and the social dimension of privacy—this paper
dissects their conceptual underpinnings in light of modern technology and identiﬁes common themes
of disruption to participation and connections online, and identity-making as caused by the public
humiliation of shaming.
This paper does not seek to interrogate the meaning of shame or the general merit of shame
Rather, this paper uses the regulatory given of online shaming as a launching pad to
analyze what this means for our understanding of the meaning of privacy. For the purposes of this
paper, shame is best described as “a form of social control” [
]. Eric Posner asserts that, “[i]t occurs
when a person violates the norms of the community, and other people respond by publicly criticizing,
avoiding, or ostracizing him” [
]. It is this external element of a public transgression/behaviour
and social enforcement that differentiates shame from the more self-imposed feelings of guilt [
Guilt is falling short of your expectations of yourself, while shame is violation of a group norm. It has
an audience ([
], pp. 9, 11–12). This deﬁnitional focus on the normative role of shame is apposite
given that internet law scholarship is rich with analysis of the role of norms in regulating the online
]. In this paper, through recognizing that norms play a crucial regulatory role
online, one tool being shaming, it dissects what happens when shaming goes awry.
In some ways, online shaming is what has allowed a more open internet to exist. At its best,
shaming can enforce rules of civility in online communities.
It can be a facilitative force for positive
Indeed, shaming is entrenched in our culture, particularly to address social wrongs seen
as outside the reach of the law. Naming and shaming is a core regulatory tool to address human
rights abuses. Shame campaigns against corporations for violating a perceived social or moral wrong
is common, such as campaigns against sweat shops or concerning environmental standards. It is a
common strategy to address regulation of internet-based companies, such as the campaign against
Facebook for its refusal to shut down a rape joke group [
or boycott of the internet registration
authority GoDaddy for supporting the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act
or creation of fake Facebook groups to publicly test the quality of Facebook’s application
of its community standards [
At its worst, shaming is a brutal form of abuse, causing, among
other things, social withdrawal, depression and anxiety ([
], p. 10, chap. 6). The ramiﬁcations of shame
4On online shaming see (, chap. 4). For a history see Goldman .
For further information see the series of scholarly articles from the 1990s, which debated the value of shaming, although
the focus was on government-sponsored sanctions, such as such as the use of shaming by the judiciary as an alternative
to imprisonment [
]. This is observed in the case of Shawn Gementera, who was sentenced to, among other things,
carry a sign with the words “I stole mail; this is my punishment” outside a postal facility: [
] discussed by Goldman
(, pp. 424–26)
. More subtle forms of shaming can also be observed, such as maintenance of criminal records, the use
of public trials and perp walks [
]. See detailed overview of this history Klonick ([
], part C). For more recent discussion,
see Nussbaum , Flanders  and Cheung .
6See also Klonick (, p. 1033) noting the difﬁculty in deﬁning shame in general.
See the famous story of the LambdaMOO virtual community detailed by Lessig ([
], pp. 97–102). For the virtues of
shaming see Solove (, pp. 92–94).
Some argue that the value we place on privacy makes shaming effective as a deterrent, because fear of losing that privacy
convinces individuals not to behave a particular way: see discussion of Goldman .
Various efforts to shame Facebook for its initial decision to allow these groups remain led the company to reverse its decision
and revisit its policies.
Several users transferred to (or threatened to) a different registrar. GoDaddy acquiesced and withdrew support for
For example, Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center set up two fake Facebook groups “Stop Palestinians” and “Stop Israelis”.
Over the course of two days increasingly severe incitements of hatred and violence were posted on both pages and then the
group complained to Facebook. The company initially only shut down the “Stop Palestinians” page until the organization
publicized the test.
Laws 2017,6, 3 3 of 26
sanctions are magniﬁed when executed online, because the punishment can be disproportionate to the
social transgression, the perpetrators anonymous and diffuse, and the reach of the shaming immediate,
worldwide and memorialized in Google search results (, chap. 10).12
This paper takes a broad, contextual approach to the analysis. It examines legal responses in
the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada and the United States of America, although it does not seek
to be a complete comparative analysis. Rather, the various judicial responses to the problems posed
by shaming are useful in highlighting the underlying privacy rationale that is the focus of this paper.
To that end, I ﬁrst examine the narrative and structure of online shaming, identifying categories
of shaming that are then used throughout the paper to evaluate different angles to the privacy
problems posed by shaming. Second, I analyze what shaming reveals about points of analytical friction
concerning the core meaning of privacy. To put it another way, by analyzing the privacy interests
raised by shaming, the limits of the free speech model are tested. The privacy debates most strained by
shaming concern dignity, privacy in public and social privacy.
2. The Narrative of Online Shaming
I frame the categories of online shaming broadly, including activities that might traditionally be
analyzed as distinct, particularly as some of the individuals involved are more sympathetic than others.
Scholars such as Kate Klonick, for example, employ a narrow conception of shaming, differentiating
shame from harassment and bullying because of the enforcement via social norms ([
], p. 1034).
However, I suggest that shame can be an element of a wide variety of forms of abuse. In some
ways, shaming is not any category, simply a tactic employed, to varying scales, in inﬂicting the abuse.
For the purposes of this paper, this broader approach is key, because by throwing open the door
categorically-speaking, we can identify and untangle the appropriate differentiating factors between a
shaming that might raise privacy concerns versus a shaming that merely causes offense or enforces the
norms of a community. In this way, we can explore how the privacy interest might be different between
a bullied child, a guy cracking sexual jokes about dongles
and revenge pornography. For analytical
use in this paper, I use four broad and overlapping categories of shaming: vigilantism, bullying,
bigotry and gossiping.
One of the most striking phenomena of social media is vigilantes outing individuals that break
social and legal rules. The cast of characters are not all sympathetic here. These “social villains” [
include Lindsey Stone, who jokingly made an offensive gesture in a photograph of the Arlington War
Memorial, to Alicia Lynch who dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim for Halloween, to Mary
Bale who was caught on CCTV throwing a cat into a wheelie bin. All actions are offensive, or at
minimum, ill-advised, but in some cases the sanction was total obliteration of these individuals lives.
The common theme is a perceived social wrong punished by the mob through public humiliation.
One of the best examples of shaming is the experience of Justine Sacco. On a layover in London
on her way to South Africa, American public relations executive Sacco posted the following tweet:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” [
At ﬁrst blush this seems to
be a racist comment, and indeed while she was en route to South Africa, Twitterverse deemed it just
so. Later, Sacco explained that her tweet was intended to make fun of the bubble in which Americans
], p. 73). She only had 170 followers on Twitter, but her tweet was noticed by a blogger
with 15,000 followers. He tweeted: “And Now, a Funny Holiday Joke From IAC’s P.R. Boss” [
Unknown to Sacco, while in ﬂight, she was bombarded with tens of thousands of angry tweets, many
Klonick asserts that shaming features three things: unclear social meaning, uncalibrated effects, and inaccuracy ([
], p. 1045).
13 See discussion, infra, the Structure of Online Shaming.
14 The tweet has since been deleted, but can be found through any Google search. It is also discussed in Ronson .
Laws 2017,6, 3 4 of 26
including the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet. By the time she landed she had been ﬁred from her job,
an advertisement posted for her old job by her former employer and several parody accounts created,
such as @loljustinesacco (with the tag “PR Disaster. Racist idiot. All-around awful”) .
The category here is even broader, including recruiting the internet mob to track down offenders.
Sometimes this is organized by the masses, something Anne Cheung discusses as the human ﬂesh search
engine common in Asian countries to hunt down individuals who have broken social rules
(, p. 304)
Daniel Solove discussed this phenomenon in the context of “dog poop girl”, the Korean woman who
failed to clean up her dog feces on a train. A passenger took a photograph of the incident and posted it
online. It went viral with individuals identifying her name, address and place of work. She was let go
from her job and forced into hiding ([
], chap. 1). More recently, a Swedish television show Troll Hunters
is devoted to exposing perpetrators of online abuse and publicly shaming them [
]. These forms of
“crowd-sourced surveillance” [
] have been encouraged by the police. Notably, the Vancouver police
asked the public to share videos and photos after a riot to help them in their task tracking down the
Cyber-bullying in some ways is an all-encompassing term for the shaming described in this paper.
It has been deﬁned as, “any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals
or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inﬂict harm or
discomfort on others” ([
], Robert Tokunaga quoted, p. 3). Its notable characteristics are repeated
aggression over a period of time in a situation of unequal power ([
], p. 1034). It is identiﬁed as a
separate category to tease out its differences, as will be seen, concerning the privacy issues of a person
like Justine Sacco or the Vancouver rioters and some of the more traditional cases of children being
Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd are two examples of cyber-bullying. A teenage Parsons was
allegedly sexually assaulted at a party and the incident photographed and shared online. She was
bullied on Facebook and via text. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) initially declined to
prosecute the young men involved on the basis that there was insufﬁcient evidence. Parsons committed
suicide the next month. Two of the young men involved were charged and plead guilty to distribution
of child pornography [
]. In the case of Amanda Todd, at the age of twelve she was coerced by a
stranger online to show her breasts. The individual relentlessly bullied her for several years, sharing
the photo with her classmates, teachers and parents. Todd was then bullied online and off by her
classmates. This forced her to move schools twice, and each time the individual re-circulated the
photo and the taunting started afresh. Todd posted a YouTube video detailing her suffering
committed suicide. In each situation the bullying was linked to the teenager ’s community.
I would include within this category retribution oriented mob attacks such as revenge
pornography. This is exempliﬁed by the story of Holly Jacobs, detailed by Danielle Keats Citron
in her book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace ([
], pp. 45–50). She shared intimate images and video with
her then-boyfriend. After they broke up he posted these images and videos on hundreds of sites,
including personal information such as her name, email address and work details. She was hounded
by individuals re-posting the information, contacting her work, creating fake Facebook proﬁles and
the like. Some websites are entirely devoted to bullying through shaming, what Citron terms “crowd
], p. 48), such as www.cheaterville.com and www.thedirty.com. However, cases such
as Jones v Dirty World Entertainment Recordings LLC [
] conﬁrm their immunity from liability as
intermediaries in the United States of America under s. 230 of the Communications Decency Act .
15 So many individuals submitted information that it crashed the Vancouver Police Department’s website.
16 Her video is available on YouTube . On her story see .
Laws 2017,6, 3 5 of 26
This category also applies to what is best described as the hounded, to individuals like Monica
Lewinsky relentlessly discussed by the masses, where gossiping translates to bullying. Her affair
with former President Bill Clinton was revealed by the Drudge Report making it one of the ﬁrst
stories broken online [
She describes the experience as, “I was patient zero of losing a personal
reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously” [
], describing internet users as “mobs of virtual
stone throwers” [
]. In the situation of revenge pornography and general hounding, the bullying is
sometimes directed at individuals, while at other times the bullied are simply the topic of discussion.
This category concerns an identiﬁable group attacked on the basis of their race, gender, sexual
orientation, religion, colour or ethnic origin. These are more classic cases of hate speech, explored
further below, except in situations of online shaming the attack is executed by the mob, further
stigmatizing and excluding the victims.
In the case of women, for example, they are the targets of
90% of revenge pornography [
A study by the Pew Internet Center Found that 40% of women
report having been harassed online. A recent survey of over 1000 women in Australia found that 76%
of women under 30 surveyed had experienced online harassment [
The Guardian newspaper
analyzed 70 million comments left by users on its site and found that they had blocked 2% for violating
their community standards. Of the top 10 abused writers, eight were women (four white, four
non-white) and the remaining two were black men .21
This kind of gender based hate is evident in the case of gamergate in 2014 where female games
developers and critics were attacked online with threats of death and rape, and in the case of Zoe
Quinn, the sharing of intimate information and photos. In many cases the women were driven from
their homes out of fear of attack [
]. The campaign against them was attributed to 4chan, 8chan
and Reddit. Such attacks can be seen against other women, with threats of death and rape on Twitter
against campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez for suggesting a woman should be the face of at least one of
the British bank notes [
]. Two tweeters were convicted in the United Kingdom of extreme threats
for such tweets as “Ya not that gd looking to rape u be ﬁne” and “f*** off and die you worthless piece
of crap” [
]. One of the most well-known cases involved comments posted on a message board on
AutoAdmit concerning two female law students, with threats of rape (such as “I’ll force myself on
her, most deﬁnitely” and “I would like to hate-fuck [last student’s name] but since people say she
has herpes that might be a bad idea.”) ([
], pp. 39–40), other disparaging and defamatory remarks,
and intrusive comments detailing their daily activities [35,50].22
Gossiping is a rather murky category for the unthinking masses that re-tweet and share content
without a care as to its accuracy. They are not necessarily the trolls that hounded Holly Jacobs or Zoe
Quinn, but they are key ﬁgures in the pile-on. It is identiﬁed on its own category in this paper, because
the machine of mob persecution online is dependent on their participation to thrive.
17 See Rosen’s discussion of privacy and Monica Lewinsky .
As Nussbaum argues, the fallacy of shame justice is that “it is justice by the mob: the dominant group are asked to take
delight in the discomfort of the excluded and stigmatized” (, p. 73).
See discussion of a study by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in Citron and Franks [
]. In the case of domestic abuse,
typically targeting women, victims service providers have reported that 97% of victims have been abused through misuse of
technology, 95% through texting and 55% through posting online .
Note that the term online harassment can be an umbrella for all sorts of unwanted behavior. The term was not deﬁned in
the study, at least in the material publicly available. The questions in the survey itself were not available to review .
21 See more generally the excellent Guardian series “the web we want” .
The situation was ﬁrst discussed by Nakashima in a Washington Post article in 2007 [
]. The two students sued 39 posters
and subpoenaed AutoAdmit and ISPs to identify the posters. Some were identiﬁed and the case later settled. Making a case
in such situation will be more difﬁcult in light of Elonis v United States .
Laws 2017,6, 3 6 of 26
The case of Lord McAlpine is particularly apposite here. In 2012 BBC Newsnight reported that
a senior Conservative politician from the Thatcher era was involved in sexual abuse of children.
Thousands took to Twitter to incorrectly link Lord McAlpine with this report, such as Sally Bercow,
wife of the then Commons Speaker, who tweeted, “Why is Lord McAlpine trending. *innocent face*.”
Such tweets were retweeted by approximately 10,000 people. McAlpine sued several prominent
individuals and offered to settle with any Twitter users with a following of less than 500 [53–56].23
Gossiping is not inherently bad. After all, two-thirds of all conversations are gossip ([
], p. 17).
Rather, it can be a positive, pleasurable interaction. It is a way that individuals form social bonds, learn
about cultural norms and establish their reputations ([
], chap. 3, in particular pp. 63–64). As Solove
asserts, gossiping can be a way to enforce norms without direct confrontation thereby maintaining
civil relations ([
], p. 64). However, gossip can be spread carelessly and can take on unwarranted
authoritativeness given the questionable truth of the allegations. This is problematic when spread
online, because of the ease of its circulation. It makes it easier to “judge out of context” ([
], p. 66) and
reaches a greater audience than the more targeted nature of in-person gossip.
The ease with which online gossip destroys a person’s reputation is exempliﬁed in Pritchard v Van
], wherein the British Columbia Supreme Court awarded damages in defamation against the
defendant not only for her Facebook post, but the comments of her friends.
She was, in effect, held
liable for the pile-on. In her post, the defendant uploaded a photograph of the Plaintiff neighbour’s
backyard with comments falsely stating her neighbour spied on her and implying her neighbour
was a pedophile. This prompted 48 comments by 36 of her friends, including nine further comments
by the defendant ([
], para. 23). The comments referred to the plaintiff, a teacher, as “a ‘pedo’,
‘creeper’, ‘nutter ’, freak’, ‘scumbag’, ‘peeper’ and a ‘douchebag’” ([
], para. 24), perpetuating the
untrue pedophile accusation and implying the defendant was unﬁt to teach. The comments, which
also identiﬁed the defendant by name, occupation and work ([
], para. 73), were viewable not only
by the defendant’s 2000+ friends and friends-of-friends, but the public, since the defendant did not use
any privacy settings. The casualness with which these 36 individuals gossiped about the defendant,
or what the plaintiff described as “venting” ([
], para. 41), is typical of an online take-down. For the
targets, the damage can be wholesale. In this case, the plaintiff lost his enjoyment of teaching, withdrew
from extra-curricular activities and experienced shunning in his community (, paras. 33–38).
3. The Structure of Online Shaming
A common thread in the categories above is that online shaming is a form of public humiliation.
Privacy has struggled with how to handle humiliation and whether to handle it all. The point of
interest concerning humiliation and privacy is the disconnect between the law, which tends to focus
on individual offenses in the form of online comments, and the harm, which is often centred on the
cumulative effect of the mob persecution. Caroline Criado-Perez describes her experience that way,
stating, “I remember sitting in my ﬂat, watching all these threats roll in, and it was horrifying, utterly
shocking and scary. I didn’t know who these people were and what they were capable of. It was
If we dissect the comments made against Justine Sacco, for example, many are classically
shaming comments, many angry and mean-spirited, rather than meeting the legal threshold of
defamatory or threatening language. Comments made included, “Is that tweet real? You work in
PR. You shld know better...” and “Justine Sacco should get ﬁred...and get AIDS” and “I don’t think
America has watched a landing this closely since Apollo 13 re-entered the earth’s atmosphere in 1970.
]. What did her in was not the individual comments, but the sheer quantity
In separate actions, Lord’s McAlpine settled with the BBC, ITV, Sally Bercow and Alan Davies. Concerning the offer to
Twitter users with less than 500 followers, see Branagh .
Note that the Plaintiff had obtained default judgment, and the Court’s reasoning here related to the plaintiff’s application
for a permanent injunction, assessment of damages and special costs.
Laws 2017,6, 3 7 of 26
and ferocity of them, and the narrative force of these tweets in re-casting her identity as one of the
raging, idiotic racist. Within one day of the original tweet, it was re-tweeted 30,000 times and the
hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet retweeted 100,000 times [
]. However, as the examples concerning
AutoAdmit and Caroline Criado-Perez above illustrate, the cause of action, when available, is against
individual posters for their contribution to the pile-on, thus the legal action is removed, to an extent,
from the cumulative context of the harm.
Some acts of shaming, particularly in some cases of cyber-bullying, are strongly associated with
the shamed’s real-world community. In such situations, legal solutions, whether criminal or private,
as against the shamer might be desirable.
If an individual can be identiﬁed, there might be a claim,
depending on the jurisdiction, of criminal hate speech, defamation, infringement of copyright, use
of a telecommunications device to abuse, threaten or harass a person, behaviour or words causing
alarm or distress, or communications that are grossly offensive or obscene, harassment, stalking, or
infringement of privacy as a tort claim.
However, for those that have suffered because of a shaming
gone viral, these legal options are of limited use, whether because they do not address what is so
harmful in the shaming, or the individuals cannot be identiﬁed, or there are too many to be able
to easily identify, or even if they are identiﬁable, as in the case of Lord McAlpine, there are just too
many involved in the wrongdoing to realistically pursue. This invites assessment of the liability of
intermediaries, moving the focus away from the law punishing those morally culpable, to efforts to
use gatekeepers unique power to control the online pathways of communication to halt the shaming
as much as possible.
Cass Sunstein discusses the pile-on as informational cascades, wherein group members express
their disapproval of certain conduct not necessarily based on their own judgment or knowledge of
the situation, but rather by following the lead of others in the group ([
], pp. 92–93). In this way,
the shaming takes place in a cascade. This is evident in the cases of Lord McAlpine and Pritchard.
As Sunstein describes the spread of rumours:
When rumors spread, it is often through a process in which they are accepted by people with
low thresholds for acceptance, and eventually through others as well, simply because most
people think that so many people cannot be wrong. A tipping point can be reached in which
large numbers of people accept a false rumor even though it is quite baseless
(, p. 93).
These informational cascades raise questions about the responsibilities of the participants, and
the privacy implications of their shaming. Cheung comments, “what we have to guard against is not
only Big Brother of the Orwellian state, but all the little dictators around us” ([
], p. 209). The internet
is a particularly effective place to deploy shaming. In one way, shame sanctions have an important
role to play online where laws can be easily circumvented and social norms have a weaker hold.
Shaming here has normative force in regulating the rules of behaviour in participating in an online
space. Solove notes, “[i]n a world of increasingly rude and uncivil behavior, shaming helps society
maintain its norms of civility and etiquette” (, p. 92).
This is the irony. It is the very weakening of norms in reining in some behaviour of users on
social media that makes shame sanctions more powerful. As an example, while social norms might
25 See here settlement of two of the young men in the Rehtaeh Parsons case for distribution of child pornography [31,32].
See Citron [
] discussing the American context. In the United Kingdom, for example, a host of Acts have been re-purposed
to target offensive and otherwise hateful comments on social media such as s 127 of the Communications Act [
here see Chambers v DPP [
], s. 4A of the Public Order Act [
], the Malicious Communications Act [
] and the Protection
from Harassment Act, 1977 c 40 [
]. In Canada, one can rely on, to name a few, s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
], provisions in the Criminal Code [
] on hate speech, harassment, stalking and child pornography, or the
recent amendment to the Criminal Code to criminalize the sharing of intimate images (this is the controversial Bill C-13 [
or extension of traditional tort claims in trespass, nuisance or defamation to privacy issues. For more on some aspects of the
Canadian context see Scassa .
This draws from Lessig’s work wherein he argues that, in the Internet context, laws can be circumvented, markets weakened
and social norms less effective because of the remoteness of Internet communications, but regulation through architecture,
in contrast, is strengthened [17,70].
Laws 2017,6, 3 8 of 26
have less of a hold on lolcat123 who pseudonymously posts racist comments about an individual on
Twitter, online mobs have signiﬁcant power in sanctioning lolcat123 for this behaviour. However, the
remoteness, anonymity and pseudonymity that breed the abusive behaviour in the ﬁrst place, also
means there are few normative limits to the shame sanctions once the cascade is underway. It is easy
for them to get out of control. You see this process unravel in the case of Amanda Todd. After she
committed suicide, Anonymous wrongly identiﬁed a man as the instigator of the abuse, providing the
public with his name and number. This man received thousands of communications, including death
A more borderline example involves a sexual joke Jack Jones
made to his friend about dongles
during a technology developers conference. It was overheard by Adria Richards, another audience
member, who took a picture of the men and posted it on Twitter along with a message shaming them
for the joke: “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles. Right behind
me #pycon” ([
], p. 114). The tweet went viral and Jones was ﬁred from his job. A mob then turned
on Richards for what they saw as putting a father of three out of a job, threatening her in a variety
of ways, including death and rape, and cyberattacking her employer’s computer systems. She too
was then ﬁred from her job. As Klonick describes this scenario, “sometimes certain norm enforcement
actions will violate norms themselves, and in turn be shamed” (, p. 1057).
Was this shaming doing good work or shaming out of control? The shaming of Richards tipped
into the territory of criminal harassment, but the interaction leading up to that point is more debatable.
Jennifer Jacquet makes the case for shame sanctions, but only in a narrow set of circumstances
she describes as “the sweet spot of shame” ([
], chap. 10), when it has the potential to change
(, p. 79)
. She identiﬁes seven characteristics:
The transgression should (1) concern the audience; (2) deviate widely from desired
behavior; and (3) not be expected to be formally punished. The transgressor should
(4) be sensitive to the group doing the shaming. And the shaming should (5) come
from a respected source, (6) be directed where possible beneﬁts are highest and (7) be
(, p. 173).
The shaming of both Jones and Richards arguably failed these criteria, but much online shame
would. The kind of shaming that Jacquet advocates is coordinated and targeted, such as the work
of Greenpeace in advocating for changes in behaviour to protect the environment.
shaming can be observed, as detailed by Klonick, in the #manspreading campaign ([
], pp. 1055–57),
a feminist campaign of unknown origins that advocated against men taking up too much room on
public transportation seats. Part of its effectiveness is it targeted the act of manspreading rather than
], p. 1057), executed using many of the criteria outlined by Jacquet above.
evident is that social norms when deployed in mobs can be powerful in social media, but because
social norms are also weakened in cyberspace the line between abuse and enforcement of etiquette can
be quite grey.
In a typical shaming, the shamed has engaged in ill-advised public conduct that the vigilantes
have deemed worthy of disapproval. In such a scenario, the privacy nugget engaged tends to be the
sense of unfairness about the publicity the situation receives. In the typical case of bullying, the shamed
never asked for the attention in the ﬁrst place. Here the scenario is slightly different. Images might
The identity of the men involved is not known. For further discussion see Ronson ([
], chap. 6) and Klonick ([
], in particular,
29 Greenpeace was used as a repeated example of an effective shamer in Jacquet (, chap. 6).
This is observable in the latter days of the campaign when, for example, transport services began issuing advisories on
manspreading as well ([
], p. 1056). Another example is #congratsyouhaveanallmalepanel drawing attention to all male
conference panels .
Laws 2017,6, 3 9 of 26
have been shared privately between willing partners and then shared by without permission to the
world, or individuals accosted and bullied without provoking. In the case of bigotry and gossiping,
individuals might be hounded day and night with comments of hate, offense or simple curiosity.
In such cases the complaint tends to be “I just want to be left alone” or “this isn’t who I am”. In many of
these cases, “this isn’t who I am” is tied up with “this isn’t true”. Once Google is involved, the shaming
is petriﬁed. Author Jon Ronson recounts from his interview with Justine Sacco: “[a]nd the worst
thing, Justine said, the thing that made her feel most helpless, was her lack of control over the Google
search results. They were just there, eternal, crushing” ([
], p. 204). For any of the above, once Google
becomes involved, the privacy aspect engaged seems to be, “I just want this to all go away”, or more
speciﬁcally, “I want Google to forget”.31
There are many aspects to privacy, and this paper interrogates three of the most common debates:
dignity, privacy in public places and social privacy. The working hypothesis is that privacy, whether in
law or otherwise, needs to better account for public humiliation. This concern is captured by Cheung’s
broad deﬁnition of privacy, which is as follows:
At its core, privacy is about the ‘right to be let alone’, the right to remain anonymous,
and freedom from being targeted. In a relational context, therefore, privacy is about how
to achieve decent participation in the cyber world, and how to safeguard autonomy and
dignity in one’s life against the powerful social moral force of monitoring and enduring
sanctions exercised through the internet (, pp. 194–95).
In this deﬁnition one can see the intertwining of dignity, identity and sociality as aspects of the
claim to the right to privacy, particularly in public places.
These aspects of privacy will be teased out
and explored in turn, with a particular focus on privacy and dignity.
4.1. Privacy and Dignity
Online shaming illuminates dignity as an aspect of what it means to claim a right to privacy.
The concept of dignity is woven through international human rights instruments, such as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights [
], the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [
and the Charter of the United Nations without any explanation of what it means to violate someone’s
A compelling account of dignity is by David Luban in the context of legal ethics where
he writes: “[c]ertain ways of treating people humiliates them; humiliating people denies them their
dignity” (, pp. 71–72). He differentiates autonomy from dignity as follows:
Autonomy focuses on just one human faculty, the will, and identifying dignity with
autonomy likewise identiﬁes human dignity with willing and choosing. This, I believe,
is a truncated view of humanity and human experience. Honoring someone’s human
dignity means honoring their being, not merely their willing. Their being transcends the
choices they make. It includes the way they experience the world—their perceptions, their
passions and sufferings, their reﬂections, their relationships and commitments, what they
care about (, p. 76).
This account of dignity and autonomy resonates concerning online shaming. A common complaint
of the shamed is the utter humiliation they feel, and in the case of some individuals this shame goes
This opens the debate concerning a right to be delisted from search results (more broadly debated as the right to be forgotten)
addressed in a data protection context in Google Spain SL, Google Inc.v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, Marios Costeja
]. The risks of such an environment of perfect remembering were earlier examined by Viktor Mayer-Shonberger,
Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age .
32 Indeed Lisa Austin frames the process as “social” (, pp. 15–16).
David Luban asserts that this was done on purpose for fear of going down the philosophical rabbit-hole and never emerging
to reach consensus when drafting the UDHR. He commented, “the invocation of human dignity in human rights documents
does no conceptual work in explaining what rights everyone ought to have” (, p. 68).
Laws 2017,6, 3 10 of 26
to the core of their sense of a life worth living. The response of some has been that some of these
individuals should not have taken the intimate photo in the ﬁrst place, or posted the stupid comment,
or been caught doing something they should not have been doing. This is rooted in a focus on
autonomy, that the individual was somehow in a position of control to negotiate the boundaries of
what was revealed or not revealed about them.
Indeed, this also assumes that the privacy harm was
revelation of information rather than rooted in being the target of bullying, which is the case for many
shamed, and it further stigmatizes and harms the victim to suggest that social withdrawal or isolation
is the preferred solution. For many, the privacy interest is to go about their lives free from being the
target of attacks. This aspect of privacy in public will be discussed below. For now, it is suggested that
autonomy, while of appeal in some situations, is of limited service to address online shaming.
This does not mean there is no place for autonomy in privacy discussions. Indeed, many countries,
such as Canada, analyze privacy in terms of both [
]. It is recognized that historically autonomy
has had a stronger pull on the American judicial and social consciousness. James Whitman provides a
compelling comparative account of the privacy histories of continental Europe and America. He shows
that continental Europe roots privacy in the protection of dignity, in protection from public exposure
and humiliation. In this way European rights are focused on the right to control information disclosure,
and the right to control one’s image or reputation. In contrast, America’s core privacy protection is
rooted in liberty ([
], p. 1161). As Whitman describes it, America’s primary privacy anxiety relates to
“maintaining a kind of private sovereignty within our walls” ([
], p. 1162) and this translates in law to
the right to be free from state intrusions ([
], pp. 1161–62). There is no need to resolve these differing
approaches here. It is more modestly argued here that online shaming illuminates that dignity reﬂects
some part of what it means to have one’s privacy invaded.
Luban’s concept of dignity is more narrowly linked with status rather than worth. On this point I
disagree with him. Rather, I favour approaching dignity as a core aspect of one’s self-worth. As Ari
Waldman explains, “[i]f privacy is essential to who we are as free selves, then a right to privacy need
not wait for a physical intrusion into a private space or a revelation of a stigmatizing private fact” ([
p. 583). Luban’s narrower focus, however, has analytical merit when attempting to differentiate the
nature of the privacy rights of a Justine Sacco versus a case of cyber-bullying against an Amanda Todd.
In linking dignity with status, Luban asks the question whether the humiliation rightly or wrongly
knocks a person down a peg. He differentiates it in terms of being humbled (rightly knocked down
a peg) and humiliated (wrongly knocked down a peg) ([
], pp. 88–89). Under this formulation of
dignity, Justine Sacco or Lindsey Stone would have simply been humbled, at least in the eyes of some,
rightly taken down a peg for a stupid, offensive post. To be consistent with Luban’s conception invites
the question: at what point, if at all, did the humbling of Justine Sacco or Lindsey Stone become a
humiliation and therefore an affront to their dignity?
In contrast, in the case of traditional cyber-bullying, such as against Amanda Todd, or revenge
pornography as in the case of Holly Jacobs, the attack was always a humiliation, it was always an
affront to her dignity. In the case of Lord McAlpine, the humiliation was wrong from the beginning
and is captured, unlike many cases of shaming, under the umbrella of defamation law. Analytically,
Luban’s approach is better at creating space for different treatments of online shaming, leaving more
room for public discourse and free speech, and arguably the issue of dignity is only triggered when the
discourse becomes out of control. This is the catch: how can we identify the tipping point on slippery
slope of when such speech goes from being right to wrong?
Luban concludes, “[t]o violate someone’s human dignity means to treat them as if they were
a being of lower rank—as an animal, as a handy but disposable tool, as property, as an object, as a
subhuman, as an overgrown child, as nothing at all” ([
], p. 89). One of the problems with shaming
online is that with the remoteness of computer communications everyone is more readily seen as a
34 See related discussion by Austin (, pp. 24–25).
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caricature, an object and subhuman. The social norms we might normally rely on to regulate this kind
of behaviour are weakened in cyberspace and yet the ease with which shaming is executed online is
strengthened. In this way, Luban perhaps overstates the argument that dignity is better linked with
status rather than self-worth. Rather, it can be see as two tiers. Avishai Margalit approaches it in this
way, differentiating between “privacy as a constitutive element of human status, and privacy as a
constitutive element of human ﬂourishing. One is concerned with human life, the other with a good
human life” (, p. 256).
We can ﬂesh out this idea of privacy and dignity in another way. An online shaming often involves
taking information out of its proper context, raising the “but that isn’t who I am” claim of the shamed.
Jeffrey Rosen captures this idea, although he does not frame it in terms of identity, when he states,
“privacy protects us from being misdeﬁned and judged out of context in a world of short attention
spans, a world in which information can easily be confused with knowledge” ([
], p. 8). However,
Rosen gears the signiﬁcance of this statement to situations where private information is revealed in
public without the subject’s permission ([
], p. 211). This only captures some of the shamed situations
explored above. Rosen’s reasoning is that if information is already public you have an opportunity to
correct the narrative. However, mob persecutions on social media carry their own narrative force and
it is difﬁcult for the shamed to intervene to recast the story in a different, truer, light. He does note,
however, that the ability to correct a misjudgement depends on one’s ability to keep people’s attention.
His argument is more subtle, focusing on control over sharing of information in other contexts in a
way that might lead to misjudgements: “it is the involuntary wrenching out of context of personal
information that itself constitutes an offense against privacy and causes the related injuries I have
described –against understanding, dignity, and autonomy” (, p. 216).
Privacy as dignity, it is suggested, can be seen as an enabling force in leading the good life, an
authentic life ([
], pp. 146–47).
Lisa Austin harnesses this when she argues privacy insulates us
from the social pressure of shame. The shame is not about what should or should not be exposed
about a person from the viewpoint of society, but rather about that person’s core sense of what his or
her identity is [
Austin talks about it in terms of self-presentation—that we experience shame
when how we want to present ourselves to the world is different than how we are being presented
and we form a negative judgment from that ([
], pp. 10–11). She states, “instead of linking privacy to
the protection of things that one “ought” to be ashamed of if exposed, the view defended here links
privacy to protection from being seen in ways that one does not wish to be seen” (, p. 12).
This can be seen in Sacco’s comment to Ronson: “[a]ll of a sudden you don’t know what you’re
supposed to do,” she said. “If I don’t start making steps to reclaim my identity and remind myself
of who I am on a daily basis, then I might lose myself” [
]. Identity, here, can be seen as a narrative,
“an individual story that each person needs to build, develop and rewrite over time in order to deﬁne
the meaning of their lives” ([
], p. 432).
Shaming can be seen to disrupt the narrative of our
identity-making. People behave differently in different context ([
], p. 170), yet much of the shaming
we see online does not allow for this.38
Privacy is compelling described as a “safe zone” as argued by Justice Karakatsanis in dissent
in R v Fearon ([
], para. 109), and in this space one can explore who you are or want to be, your
likes and dislikes, ideas, humour and self. What is social media to this space? We cannot describe
it as freedom “to ponder outside the human gaze” ([
], para. 114), which focuses on privacy as
seclusion. Rather, the desire is the freedom to participate within the public gaze. Even in cases of
35 This was also quoted in Fearon (, para. 114).
She also notes we can overcome many of the cultural difference that have been identiﬁed by scholars between the European
notion of dignity as the root of privacy and the American notion of autonomy as the root of privacy (, pp. 34–35).
37 See also discussion in Bernal (, chap. 9).
Nissenbaum argues that privacy should be thought of in terms of contextual integrity, meaning that “a privacy violation has
occurred when either contextual norms of appropriateness or norms of ﬂow have been breached” (, p. 125).
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traditional cyber-bullying, the victims want freedom to participate in the space with a safe zone of
dignity surrounding them. This shifts the focus outward, to arguments that privacy protection can be
deployed through civility rules.
The question is how can you manufacture it or impose it? Enforced
The problem with persecution by the mob is that the offenders are at once
individuals, and the group as a whole.
A related approach is the argument of Whitman that shaming (in the context of state sanctioned
shaming) infringe what he calls “transactional dignity” ([
], p. 1090). It is related to this outward
focus above in the sense that he distinguishes bodily and status dignity from this “marketplace
(, p. 1090):
It is the dignity involved in having the right to know what kind of a deal one has struck, and
on what terms. It is the dignity of the one-shot transaction-the dignity that arises from our
marketplace right to complete one deal and move on to the next one, the dignity that comes
from our right to pay off a debt once and for all and be done with our creditor
(, p. 1090).
The offence, he argues, is the unpredictability of shame sanctions. Online sanctions lack the
government approval that Whitman was arguing against. Rather, the mob persecutions online often
develop organically. However, the platforms that offer the spaces to interact, such as Twitter, arguably
their users of transactional dignity without having in place policies to attempt to address
the problem of online shaming.
A natural point of reﬂection is hate speech as some of the shaming that is perpetrated on social
media is hate speech. Additionally, the harm of a social media shaming mimics the harm of hate
speech even when it does not entirely align with it. In countries like Canada, with stronger hate speech
laws, dignity has long been accepted as the heart of such laws. In R v Keegstra [
], the Supreme Court
of Canada commented
The derision, hostility and abuse encouraged by hate propaganda...have a severely negative
impact on the individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance. This impact may cause
target group members to take drastic measures in reaction, perhaps avoiding activities
which bring them in contact with non-group members or adopting attitudes and postures
directed towards blending in with the majority. Such consequences bear heavily in a nation
that prides itself on tolerance and the fostering of human dignity through, among other
things, respect for the many racial, religious, and cultural groups in our society .42
Jeremy Waldron pushes this argument further stating that when it comes to hate speech, dignity
requires public assurance you will be treated justly or decently. It is this element of degradation,
experienced as humiliation, that is common to hate speech and online shaming.43
A further issue to be teased out is exactly what is different between attacking one’s dignity and
causing offense. Here I suggest there is analytical similarity with humbling (rightly knocked down a
peg) versus humiliating individuals (wrongly knocked down a peg) ([
], pp. 88–89). Waldron states
that, in the context of hate speech, the difference between dignity and offense is between an objective
assessment of someone’s social status versus subjective feelings of hurt or anger ([
], pp. 106–7).
This links with defamatory principles concerning status and reputation.
When examining the bullying of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, the abusive comments and photos,
would objectively lower her in the eyes of society, but it is more than that. Right-thinking members
39 See Whitman for a discussion of the arguments of Robert Post (, p. 1167).
40 See analysis of the virtues of moderation see Grimmelmann .
Whitman used this language, stating that “[w]hen the state turns an offender over to the public, it robs him of that
transactional dignity” (, p. 1090).
42 See also discussion by Waldron (, pp. 84–85) about the signiﬁcance of Dickson CJ’s reasoning in Keegstra.
43 See discussion by Waldron of the similarities between degrading treatment and hate speech (, p. 109).
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of society might see through the horrors of what was shared and in that way her reputation spared.
What was not spared was the humiliation. Therefore, a further distinction can be made between
humiliation and hurt feelings. Lindsey Stone might be initially hurt that she has been called-out
by the Twitterverse for her unthinking photo and then as the groundswell of disapproval grew, her
reputation and status were harmed. In her case it was the sheer size of the mob attack that arguably
shifted the event to a humiliation. In the case of Parsons or the women in gamergate, the relentless and
degrading treatment by the mob is more about the right to “decent treatment in society”
(, p. 107),
to notions of “one’s right to live privately, away from unwanted attention, to pursue freely the
development and fulﬁllment of one’s personality,” ([
], p. 316)
rather than people saying mean
things, which is individualized, and reparable feelings of discomfort and hurt, or, to borrow from
Handyside v United Kingdom [
], invokes free speech questions concerning the right to “offend, shock or
(, para. 49).
Stemming from this analysis of dignity, part of the way that public humiliation
can be accounted for in the right to privacy is the analysis of the publicness of the shaming, and thus
the right to privacy in public places.
4.2. Privacy in Public
One of the issues with the privacy engaged here is that it involves the concept of public privacy.
Indeed many of the individuals who have been shamed had put themselves out there by participating
in the discursive spaces online ([
], p. 193). The question is whether that should be the end of it
analytically—the act of participating online closes down the privacy claim. I suggest this would be
a truncated approach to privacy; it is the very publicness of the spectacle that feeds the feelings of
humiliation by sharing it with a wider audience.
Monica Lewinsky explained her experience this
way as being “humiliated to death” [
]. A common argument advanced is that if people do not like
what is being said online or in certain communities online, they should just go somewhere else. To the
shamed, the question might be “why do I have to leave” or “how am I supposed to not go online”.
Traditionally, the law does little to account for privacy in public places, particularly in America. Europe,
and to a lesser extent Canada, have been more open to the right to privacy in public.
American tort law sets out four different privacy torts: intrusion on seclusion, publication of
private facts, false light invasion of privacy and appropriation of personality ([
public context, this has left little wiggle room for a claim to privacy in a public place, unless there is
harassment or stalking ([
], pp. 9–10). This is exempliﬁed in the case of Moreno v Hanford Sentinel,
where Cynthia Moreno, a university student, posted an “Ode to Coalinga” on her MySpace
account under her ﬁrst name. The Ode was a negative commentary about her hometown. The Coalinga
High School principal saw the Ode and passed it to the local newspaper where it was published and
cited to Moreno using her full name. Her family received death threats, a shot was ﬁred at their house
and they were forced to move from the town. The Court of Appeal rejected a tort claim of public
disclosure of private facts, because by choosing to post information on MySpace the information was
[A] crucial ingredient of the applicable invasion of privacy cause of action is a public
disclosure of private facts. A matter that is already public or that has previously become
part of the public domain is not private...Here, Cynthia publicized her opinions about
Coalinga by posting the Ode on myspace.com, a hugely popular internet site. Cynthia’s
Here Cheung was discussing the European Court of Human Right’s interpretation of the meaning of Article 8 of the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 in Sidabras and Dziatuas v
45 Moreham discusses the risks to privacy related to wider dissemination of a photography (, p. 621–23).
These torts were identiﬁed by William Prosser, and not without criticism, one of which is the failure to include breach of
conﬁdentiality in the mix. See discussion of Waldman (, pp. 617–18) and Solove and Richards .
47 See discussion in Cheung (, pp. 197–98, 204) and Richardson et al. .
Laws 2017,6, 3 14 of 26
afﬁrmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened
it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an
expectation of privacy regarding the published material .
The message of such a case is that once information is posted publicly online, there can be no
In Canada we are in the nascent stage of developing a tort of invasion of privacy, with most of the
focus thus far on intrusion on seclusion rather than privacy in public places. The Ontario Court of
Appeal in Jones v Tsige [
] introduced the four torts in the U.S. Restatement (Second) of Torts [
Canadian law. The Court held the defendant liable for the ﬁrst tort, intrusion on seclusion, because
she used her position as a bank employee to look up bank records of her partner’s ex-spouse. Since
Jones, other Canadian courts have applied the tort of intrusion on seclusion ([
], chap. 8), and more
recently in Doe 464533 v ND [
], the Ontario Superior Court applied the second tort, revelation of
private facts, to a case of revenge pornography. In Doe, the defendant was found liable for posting
photographs of his ex-girlfriend on a pornography site.
The public shame surrounding revenge pornography has been a particularly effective mobilizing
force in spurring legislative action in Canada.
The Criminal Code was amended in 2014 to add an
offense of sharing intimate images ([
], s. 162.1).
Nova Scotia introduced a Cyber-safety Act [
although the Act was struck down for infringing the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms [
] for its
overly broad deﬁnition of cyber-bullying [
More recently, Manitoba introduced the Intimate
Image Protection Act , which created a tort of non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
More generally for privacy concerns, Canadian courts have tended to simply extend traditional
torts of nuisance, trespass and defamation to account for privacy concerns ([
], pp. 30–34). It is
unclear whether Canadian courts, in the future, might be more open to some form of a right to privacy
in public places, perhaps encouraged by the developing case law stemming from Jones. Historically,
however, the courts have tended to provide minimal protections in public places ([
], p. 2). In a
constitutional context, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that in certain circumstances one
can have a right to privacy in public places [
although the case was rooted in the context of the
Québec Charter, which provides for a right to one’s image.
The United Kingdom has been more open to a right to privacy in public with seminal cases
such as Campbell v MGN Ltd. [
], although the legal hook in this case was the particularly invasive
nature of photographs in revealing personal information. The Daily Mirror published numerous
articles revealing that Naomi Campbell was receiving treatment for drug abuse. The articles included a
photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting as well as details of her treatment. She had
previously publicly denied that she was a recovering drug addict. The majority of the House of Lords
considered there to be a public interest in revealing the fact that she was in recovery, but concluded
that the fact that she was receiving treatment from Narcotics Anonymous, including details of that
treatment and a photograph, amounted to an invasion of privacy. The focus, therefore, became the
particularly intrusive nature of photographs.
As Paton-Simpson explains, “[t]he message of these cases is, once reasonable people venture outside the safety of their
own homes, they must expect that they may be followed, ﬁlmed, investigated and spied upon, by any person for any
(, p. 4).
The United Kingdom has also enacted legislation, which addresses revenge pornography. Section 33 of the Criminal Justice
and Courts Act  makes it an offence, in certain circumstances, to disclose private sexual photographs or ﬁlm.
This puts aside, for the moment, an assessment of the ﬂaws in the Bill C-13 [
], in particular the surveillance provisions.
The provision criminalizing sharing of intimate images is sound, although it is of more use to adults than minors.
51 Nova Scotia’s Justice Department is currently drafting a new cyberbullying act: see .
The Act included, for example, damage to self-esteem and emotional well-being in the deﬁnition of
(, s. 3(1)(b)
). The judge criticized the deﬁnition as a “colossal failure” ([
], para. 165), and since
the law centred around this deﬁnition, the Act in its entirety was struck down.
53 See also discussion by Moreham (, p. 632).
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Campbell extended the traditional tort of breach of conﬁdence to what is now known in the
United Kingdom as misuse of private information ([
], para. 14).
While the analysis in the case
concerns the more traditional issue of revelation of private information, evident in the Lords reasoning
is protection of one’s dignity as a theoretical underpinning of the right to privacy. Baroness Hale,
for example, noted the private nature of one’s health information and the risk in publishing Campbell’s
attendance at the Narcotics Anonymous, not only in potentially dissuading her and others like her from
seeking treatment, but for the distress it caused ([
], paras. 157–58). In this way, although unsaid,
there is a greater social value in protecting this privacy. On public privacy, Lord Hoffmann stated,
[T]he widespread publication of a photograph of someone which reveals him to be in a
situation of humiliation or severe embarrassment, even if taken in a public place, may
be an infringement of the privacy of his personal information. Likewise, the publication
of a photograph taken by intrusion into a private place (for example, by a long distance
lens) may in itself be such an infringement, even if there is nothing embarrassing about the
picture itself (, para. 75).
Lord Hoffmann was still unconvinced Campbell had a privacy claim concerning the photographs,
because in his view, the photograph added nothing to the text of the story, however on this the majority
of Lords disagreed. The question for the majority was ultimately as to the content of the photograph
and nature of the activity involved. Lord Hope of Craighead stated the question is whether publishing
the photo will be offensive ([
], para. 122). Baroness Hale framed it as a question of whether the
activity photographed was private ([
], para. 154). The focus on the essentially private nature of
the activity in question makes it difﬁcult to claim a right to public privacy concerning some aspects of
online shaming, although it is useful to address some cases of cyber-bullying.
In contrast, Justice Eady in The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd. [
] held that blogging was
“essentially a public rather than a private activity” ([
], para. 11), even when done pseudonymously,
and therefore there was no right to anonymity. In this case the Times Newspaper identiﬁed a police
ofﬁcer as the pseudonymous writer NightJack of a popular blog about police life in Lancashire. It was
later revealed that hacking was involved in ascertaining the blogger’s identity, but at the time of this
application it was presented as typical investigative work through internet sources ([
], para. 3).
The Court noted that Campbell involved the revelation of personal information, unlike the situation
here where the only information sought to keep private was the blogger’s identity. Eady concluded:
Those who wish to hold forth to the public by this means often take steps to disguise their
authorship but it is in my judgment a signiﬁcantly further step to argue, if others are able to
deduce their identity, that they should be restrained by law from revealing it
(, para. 9).
Ultimately, the Court held the author was more akin to an undercover journalist, who has no
reasonable expectation of privacy concerning his or her identity ([
], paras. 10–11). This indicates
a narrow reading of Campbell—that the privacy interest is more about the revelation of personal
information than a broader right to privacy in public places. Megan Richardson et al, identify a similar
privacy loss for the litigants in Moreno and Author of a Blog, a loss of an ability to carve out a space for
private communications online:
[M]any of those who engage with the internet may hope and imagine that their private
communications with their chosen audience will somehow ‘take place’ beyond the
observation of others; yet they ﬁnd it difﬁcult to delimit a place that will permit them the
privacy they desire in the boundlessness of cyberspace (, p. 9).
In Judith Vidal-Hall & ors v Google Inc. [
], the Court concluded that misuse of private information is a distinct tort from
breach of conﬁdence.
55 For discussion of the revelation at the Leveson Inquiry of the hacking see Richardson et al. (, p. 1).
Laws 2017,6, 3 16 of 26
In these cases the focus was on the right of the user to control the boundary between public and
private online, while the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been more open to protecting
a broader right of public privacy.
Dignity and identity are arguably the analytical foundation that has allowed a public privacy
right to develop under ECtHR jurisprudence. In von Hannover v Germany No. 1  and No. 2 ,
for example, the ECtHR examined the right to privacy of princess Caroline of Monaco concerning
photographs published of her, sometimes with her children, in various German magazines. The cases
are distinguishable from many of the acts of online shaming analyzed here, because Princess Caroline
is a public ﬁgure, therefore there is more of a general public interest in information about her and her
family. Her wish to stop the revelation of particular information, in this case photographs detailing
her daily life, is a different beast than online shaming. It is not inherently degrading and humiliating
the way a public pile-on is, and does not engage as closely the social interaction involved, which is
examined in the following section.
The cases are notable, however, because the Court considered going about one’s daily life to
be something of an essentially private nature: “the photos of the applicant in the various German
magazines show her in scenes from her daily life, thus engaged in activities of a purely private nature
such as practising sport, out walking, leaving a restaurant or on holiday” ([
], para. 61).
In this way,
one does not forfeit the right to privacy just because you exist out in the world. In von Hannover no. 2,
the ECtHR reiterated this point more broadly, stating, “[t]here is thus a zone of interaction of a person
with others, even in a public context, which may fall within the scope of private life”
(, para. 95).
The tendency in the cases is to look at whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in
the circumstances. Scholars have questioned the application of this concept to public privacy [
Elizabeth Paton-Simpson interrogates it on normative and descriptive grounds. Normatively, she
states it assumes that people venture into public without any expectation of privacy at all, and that
they carefully keep private from this public world what they do not want revealed. The assumption is
that people have a choice in this scenario and waive their right to privacy when they leave their home
and fail to take privacy-protecting precautions. Descriptively, it assumes that people expect more
privacy in their home than in public. Perhaps this is true, but she asserts this is a matter of degree,
noting people do not tend to expect they will be observed any more than in a casual manner .
Waldman similarly explores the example of staring, arguing that staring feels like an invasion
of privacy and yet involves no disclosure of information. He asserts that a violation of social trust
is at the root of the privacy infringement, “our trust that no one will turn us into objects of gawking
expression and leering eyes” ([
], p. 599). The social nature of this trust will be discussed in the
following section on social privacy. This line between casual glances and gawking was articulated
by ECtHR in Peck v United Kingdom [
], a case where CCTV footage was aired on TV showing the
claimant walking down an alleyway moments after having attempted suicide. The Court commented,
“the relevant moment was viewed to an extent which far exceeded any exposure to a passer-by or to
security observation...and to a degree surpassing that which the applicant could possibly have foreseen
when he walked in Brentwood on 20 August 1995” (, para. 62).
Despite the publicness of Twitter, Sacco only had 170 followers, yet one re-tweet and her
public expanded to 15,000 users and snowballed from there. In cases such as Rehtaeah Parsons,
deeply personal information or images were shared with the public, reﬂecting a more traditional
conception of privacy as unwanted revelation of personal information. However, once it was out
there a frenzied mob discussion of their private lives ensued, deepening the harm suffered. Here
arguments of scholars such as Citron are particularly compelling, that cybermobs can be addressed
56 See also discussion in Moreham (, pp. 607–8).
57 This was also stated in Peck v United Kingdom
(, para. 57).
Laws 2017,6, 3 17 of 26
by supplementing traditional law with civil rights laws that better account for the psychic damage
(, chap. 5; , pp. 39–49)
If one participates on Twitter it is arguable you assume you have no privacy in the space. There is
no “zone of interaction” ([
], para. 95) that can be characterized as private, except for private
messaging. However, the public humiliation possible on Twitter invites a different analysis of this
public space. Rather, the concern is with notions of dignity and identity. One approach is to see the
publicness of the space as not an impediment when dignity issues are engaged, rather as a factor to
consider on a continuum from public to private. This thinking can be seen in von Hannover, discussed
as the idea of integrity. The Court held that the princess had a right to privacy, despite the fact that the
nature of the activities in public was not sensitive or embarrassing, in order to protect “one’s physical
and psychological integrity” ([
], para. 50).
The reasoning of the Court was that the primary
purpose of the right to private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [
was “to ensure the development, without outside interference, of the personality of each individual in
his relations with other human beings” (, para. 50).
Two trends in analysis are evident. First, in most cases, the focus of the analysis was on the private
or public nature of the activity or space, the efforts at seclusion or anonymity, and the social norms
that govern the space.
A Twitter account is normally public, but depending on one’s privacy settings
a Facebook account or group might be closed. In 2014, a group of male Dalhousie Dentistry students
who were members of a closed Facebook group called “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” were publicly
shamed for a series of misogynistic comments.
This raises the question of whether these students
had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a closed group or is the assumption that everything we post
online is public (legally rather than shrewdly).
If the assumption is that it is public regardless of the
privacy settings employed, then the intellectual distinction between public and private, at least in an
online context, crumbles further.
In addition, if privacy is seen as an enabler of living the good life, then the importance of access to
the internet becomes a consideration. Most accounts of online shaming involve the shamed retreating
from the online world to avoid further humiliation and this can impact their ability to ﬂourish in
modern society. Indeed, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2012
afﬁrming access to the internet as a basic human right, because of its critical role in “promot[ing]
the progress of society as a whole” [
]. The work of former and current special rapporteurs on the
promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on the right to privacy
have been key in promoting international recognition of the importance of free speech and privacy
concerning use of the internet [
]. In his 2011 report, former special rapporteur Frank La Rue
recognized, among other things, access to the internet as a fundamental right and noted the risks of
social networking to the right to privacy (, para. 11).
Second, where a right to public privacy has existed it tends to be framed as a right to retreat—a
quiet space in public away from the public’s attention—and on the related idea that we should not be
vulnerable to have the minutiae of our lives scrutinized or aggregated just by being out and about
in the world ([
], pp. 17–19).
Thus, it is still a Alan Westin inspired analysis that focuses on
control, on the ability to stop the scrutiny in its tracks and control the data gathering and aggregation.
58 See discussion also in Cheung (, pp. 207–9).
See discussion in Richardson et al. [
] that case law tends to default to the view of the internet as a public space.
Paton-Simpson states the factors that impact the degrees of privacy in public are i.e., “varying degrees of exposure or
seclusion in different places and at different times, anonymity and the limitation of attention paid, various social rules,
dispersion of information over space and time, and the ephemeral nature of our use of public space” (, p. 8).
Some of the offensive posts were detailed by the National Post [
]. See the Globe and Mail [
] for how the information
In Canada, courts and employment tribunals have looked at the privacy settings of employees in assessing justiﬁcation for
workplace dismissals concerning social media use: see here Mangan .
Westin discusses this idea stating, “[k]knowledge or fear that one is under systematic observation in public places destroys
the sense of relaxation and freedom that men seek in open spaces and public arenas”
(, p. 31)
Laws 2017,6, 3 18 of 26
Westin deﬁnes public privacy in its relation to anonymity, stating it is “when the individual is in
public places or performing public acts but still seeks, and ﬁnds, freedom from identiﬁcation and
(, p. 31).
The harm with shaming seems to be more about how the event spiralled out
of control, and about re-claiming one’s identity, rather than identiﬁcation or surveillance. The privacy
right engaged concerning online shaming therefore can be seen to push the public privacy argument
further. It is arguably triggered later on, after the mob attack. Your right is engaged once the persecution
begins or once the private information was gathered for the reveal. In this way, some cases of online
shaming have more in common with privacy claims of celebrities against paparazzi intrusions than it
does about surveillance or information control.
4.3. Social Privacy
Building on the discussion so far, an episode of online shaming is social, illuminating the weakness
in approaching privacy as predominantly about the ability to control information ﬂows. As Waldman
explains, “privacy involves our relationship to society, not our departure from it” ([
], p. 591). Social
interactions are the engine that make social networking tick, and are what make online shaming
possible. After the Vancouver riots, it was the interactive nature of social media that identiﬁed
]. This interactivity was used by a couple who posted CCTV footage to YouTube to track
down the woman who dumped their cat in a bin [
The video received worldwide attention,
and the offender, in addition to being identiﬁed and ﬁned, received death threats [
]. Some abuse is
more coordinated, such as the organization through 4chan, 8chan and reddit of the campaign of abuse
against the female games developers and critics, discussed above .
What happens then to the shamed? If we accept that there is a privacy dimension to their
experience, that their dignity has been assaulted, their sense of self-worth and identity diminished
by the humiliation, and let us assume in this instance we are focused on online shaming versus a
humbling as explored above, the question is the social dimension of this experience. Many conceptions
of privacy position the person seeking privacy protection as having a right to be left alone or a right
to control the information ﬂow. The privacy-claiming-person is removed from the social context and
positioned as being him or her against the world.64
Rather, the social nature of a public shaming brings to light to the social dimension of privacy.
Not only is the shaming a social occasion, but the person being shamed might not be seeking isolation.
Rather, the harm in a shaming is that it can force a withdrawal from society, or at minimum from
participation in the social spaces online. Certainly they would like the sharing, bullying and mocking
to stop, but they also want to be able to go about their lives in this social world we live in without
being vulnerable to a virtual lynching. The privacy interest here, therefore, is better framed as a right
to carve out a private space within the public realm, a safe zone, where you can be free from attack.
This desire to participate in the social spaces rather than retreat is reﬂected in R v Elliott [
an Ontario case concerning criminal harassment via tweets.
Unlike most of the cases of shaming
explored in this paper, Elliott involved harassment by one person, Gregory Elliott, over a period of
months against two women, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly. The women used their twitter
accounts on a personal level, but also for advocacy for a feminist organization. The alleged harassment
was more about the volume of tweets rather than any one single tweet standing out as threatening.
The one exception was a tweet by Elliott along the lines of “a whole lot of ugly at the Cadillac
(, p. 52)
. Reilly had been tweeting with her friends concerning plans to meet at the
Cadillac lounge, and she testiﬁed that, in reading his tweet, she was fearful he was going to come to
the restaurant, moving the harassment from online to the real world.
63 See link to the video of the incident . It has been viewed over 1.5 million times.
64 See Steeves (, p. 199) discussing this idea in the context of Westin’s work.
65 It speciﬁcally concerned s 264 of the Criminal Code .
Laws 2017,6, 3 19 of 26
There are ﬁve elements to a claim of criminal harassment under s 264 of the Canadian Criminal
Code: repeated communication, harassment of the complainant, knowledge by the perpetrator that it
was harassment, fear for personal safety and reasonableness of that fear [
]. The Court concluded
that both women had been harassed but that their fear for their personal safety was not reasonable
in the circumstances. In the case of Guthrie there was an additional hurdle as the Court held that
Elliott did not know that he was harassing her, although he was reckless as to that knowledge. Putting
aside analysis of the case concerning criminal harassment, two aspects of the case are particularly
illuminative of the struggle between the right to freedom of expression and privacy.
First, the Court analyzed whether Elliott’s use of hashtags the women used could qualify as
harassment. For example, Guthrie used #AOTID, which was a hashtag for an event which she was
connected to, and the question was whether repeated communications by Elliott using this hashtag
was harassment. This necessitated analysis of the public or private nature of hashtags. Is a hashtag a
billboard to spread ideas, to target someone walking by, or is it more analogous to a call for a public
], p. 60). The Court was understandably reluctant to ﬁnd there was harassment using
hashtags. Twitter is, for the most part, a public forum, and hashtags are a way of linking disparate
conversations under one theme. However, the Court accepted that Elliott was referring to Guthrie
and aware of her connection with #AOTID when using the hashtag. Unfortunately, Justice Knazan
did not select the analogy he preferred, rather setting up the broad issues at play and then drawing a
conclusion on a narrower point, in this case that the use of the hashtag was not a communication as
required for criminal harassment ([
], p. 60). He left open the door for future cases, however, if it is
established that “a person used a hashtag with the intention that someone who followed or had to
follow it would read it” ([
], p. 60). The threshold is quite rightly high for a criminal charge, but it is
hard to imagine a scenario where the burden would be met.
This question of whether there can be something private in a public social interaction remains
to be developed. One can imagine a situation where a court might, in the future, order an injunction
preventing continued communication with a Twitter user, which might, in narrow circumstances
include hashtags. The key point is that the responsibility, if social privacy is taken seriously, should
not wholly rest with the victim to avoid being subject to the abuse. Such an order would not be easy
to execute, as it would be difﬁcult to pinpoint hashtags that the victim might use in the future, and
it would be too heavy of a free speech curb to have the harasser monitor, in a sense, all the victim’s
tweets to avoid using hashtags they have used, not to mention the behaviour it would encourage that
it was purportedly thwarting. However, it re-focuses the mind so that the burden is not entirely borne
by the victim, and the responsibility, rather, rests with the aggressor.
The second social privacy point concerning Elliott was the Court’s treatment of the tweets
concerning Cadillac Lounge. The Court concluded that Reilly did not fear for her safety, or if she did,
the fear was not reasonable. However, the Court then comments on the privacy roots of her alleged
fear. It is worth replicating the entirety of the Court’s analysis here:
Her fear that he might have been at the Cadillac Lounge and that he could escalate to
ofﬂine and real-life harassment (though she had no idea what he would do) is based on
her view that there is privacy in Twitter and that one account holder can dictate what
another account holder tweets. But on the whole of this evidence, relating to both her and
Ms. Guthrie, Twitter is not private, by deﬁnition and in its essence.
On this evidentiary record, asking a person to stop reading one’s feed from a freely chosen
open account is not reasonable. Nor is it reasonable to ask someone to stop alluding to
one’s tweets. To subscribe to Twitter and keep your account open is to waive your right to
privacy in your tweets. Arranging a meeting or social event using tweets other than direct
messages is like inviting strangers into your home or onto your phone line while you talk
to your friends. Blocking only goes so far, as long as you choose to remain open.
Laws 2017,6, 3 20 of 26
I am not satisﬁed beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Elliott’s repeated communications
caused Ms. Reilly to fear for her safety. But had I been so satisﬁed in relation to the Cadillac
Lounge incident, I would not be satisﬁed beyond a reasonable doubt that such fear, based as it
was on an expectation that non-direct tweets are private, was reasonable in all of the circumstances
[emphasis added] (, p. 83).
The Court evidences a convoluted analysis whereby since Reilly viewed tweets as private, which
the Court concluded were public, then her fears for her personal safety are unfounded. This is based
on a narrow reading of privacy as being predominantly about seclusion or revelation of unwanted
information. Rather, if the series of events in this case, namely harassing tweets, is viewed through
the lens of social privacy, then the privacy nugget expressed by Reilly becomes clearer. This does not
necessarily change the outcome of the case, but it is an important analytical point for future cases
concerning online interactions. It was about being free from targeted attacks, about preserving and
protecting her self-worth and identity.
As Waldman argues, we must protect interactions with strangers as they are important for making
connections, learning tolerance, ﬁnding jobs and relationships, and so on. He asserts, “[a]ny theory of
privacy that disincentivizes some measure of sharing and interaction with strangers, then, cripples the
very core of a democratic society” ([
], p. 612). The implications of Justice Knazan’s analysis is that
the appropriate response of someone harassed is a forced retreat from the public place—if you do not
like being harassed, you should just go elsewhere. This ties with the criticism above that the burden is
placed on the harassed to manage the invasion of privacy, rather than on the harasser.
Two key features to social privacy are teased out here: that privacy is dynamic and that it does not
necessarily involve isolation. Austin captures the social dynamic of privacy, stating, “[p]rivacy
is not best understood as a state of social withdrawal but as a set of norms that enable social
(, p. 55).
This outward-looking conception of privacy sees privacy as an enabler in
forming connections. Margalit argues that privacy is about intimacy, stating that privacy is “an enabling
condition for forming meaningful relations, the paradigms of which are family relations and friendship.
Not loneliness but the possibility for intimacy is at the core of the idea of privacy”
(, p. 262)
This links the social with the analysis of identity above, that individuals need to be able to build and
re-write the narrative of their lives ([
], chap. 9). In this way, identity can be seen to be rooted in a
social context and public humiliation through shaming can be seen to disrupt this process.
One compelling account of privacy is by Waldman arguing that infringements of privacy
are in essence breaches of trust. He asserts that “privacy, particularly in the information-sharing
context, is really a social construct based on trust between social sharers, between individuals
and Internet intermediaries, between groups of people interacting online and ofﬂine—broadly
(, p. 590)
. The answer to animate this right is more compelling in an American
context, as he suggests rooting the right in the traditional breach of conﬁdence action, something
that has remained undeveloped in American law
(, Section IV).
This basis for a right to privacy is
familiar to countries such as the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, the broader claim of the trust-basis
of privacy is persuasive. One interesting point for future research is the link between trust and civility,
namely in what context the expectation that ﬂows from trust takes the shape of civility.
In this social context, one way to frame privacy is as an interpersonal boundary control mechanism,
as suggested by Irwin Altman, allowing the individual to deﬁne and re-deﬁne what their sense of
self-identity ﬁnds acceptable as being in-bounds.
A focus on the concept of control, however, risks
the privacy conundrum being seen to be resolved through simple control mechanisms. As long
as the shamed can control what is acceptable and unacceptable there is no wrong. However, this
does not account for the enabling function of privacy explored here. Valerie Steeves makes this
66 This was the basis for the development of the tort of misuse of private information articulated in Campbell .
67 See Steeves (, pp. 201–3) discussing the work of Irwin Altman .
Laws 2017,6, 3 21 of 26
point, arguing that the responsibility to negotiate the right should not be the sole burden of the
(, pp. 206–7).
This was the criticism in the analysis in Elliott detailed above.
Looking at the social interactions online, one can see the regulatory process between laws, markets
and norms is dialogical and dynamic [
]. Within this, privacy can be viewed as “a dynamic
process that is exhibited by the individual in social interaction with others, as the individual withdraws
from others in solitude or moves from solitude to intimacy and general social interaction”
(, p. 206)
Privacy can be as much about intimacy and companionship rather than isolation. The public
humiliation harm caused by online shaming disrupts the ability to form these connections online
and off. Steeves suggests that the focus should be about the “quality of interaction between social
(, pp. 206–7)
and this enables a right to privacy to exist in public places. This means that
every situation is different, and while we can focus on boundary control it is driven from an analysis
of what the shamer has done rather than what the shamed can control. In this way privacy is “an
internal dimension of society” ([
], p. 15) and protecting it becomes as much about the social values
at stake as the individual ([
], p. 15). This invites reﬂection on the kind of culture change we need to
promote to protect privacy in online social spaces.
There is something fantastical about the idea of regulating online shaming, because it immediately
raises concerns about regulating meanness, a social issue that the law is ill-equipped nor advised to
weigh-in on. However, 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. Such nuance is critical to free speech questions of hate speech versus offense,
public curiosity versus public interest and gossip versus substance.
This paper seeks to show how online shaming illuminates weaknesses in dominant privacy
debates concerning dignity, the public right to privacy and the social dimension of privacy. A common
link between these theories and points of debate is the public humiliation and attacks on identity
experienced by victims of online shaming, the idea of “this isn’t who I am” that pervades the stories
of the shamed. Indeed, dignity was a central point of resonance. Any analysis of the social right to
privacy or a right to privacy in public stemmed from concern about the assault on a shamed’s dignity
caused by a public humiliation. Drawing from Luban [
], I differentiate between humbling, where an
individual is rightly knocked down a peg for a social transgression, and humiliation, which is an attack
on one’s dignity. Waldron makes a similar differentiation in the context of hate speech, differentiating
between attacks on dignity, which objectively lower someone’s social status, and offensiveness, which
are subjective feelings of hurt or anger .
In the case of public privacy and social privacy, this paper shows the need for the law to develop
to better reﬂect the dynamic social space within which we now experience our private lives. Online
shaming is a public occasion, yet the right to public privacy has tended to be framed in law, at least in
Canada and the UK, as a right of seclusion, a right to retreat from public attention. Similarly, online
shaming is a social occasion, yet social privacy features minimally, if at all, in the cases, with most
analysis thus far in scholarly work. Victims of online shaming often want to continue to participate
in the spaces online, they simply want to be free from attack. These privacy interests immediately
rub against free speech rights, and we should be concerned with formulating a privacy right that
drifts into the territory of regulating meanness and offence. However, the failure to address the gap in
privacy law concerning the public and social dimension of privacy has left many victims without legal
recourse in the face of brutal abuse.
Public humiliation disrupts the ability to make connections and build one’s identity and it is this
aspect of privacy that requires re-imagining. The next step will be to develop a framework for such
a privacy model, something that is beyond the scope of this paper. The key will be to ﬁnely connect
the dignity points raised—namely differentiating humbling versus humiliation—and privacy as such.
One way to do this is to further develop the conceptual underpinnings of privacy as an enabling
Laws 2017,6, 3 22 of 26
rather than secluding right. As an enabling right, the focus is less on a right of seclusion, although
this is certainly a key aspect to the right to privacy. Rather, in recognizing that privacy is as much
about companionship and social interactions as isolation, the focus broadens to more fully capture the
continuum from seclusion to interaction within which we live. The privacy interest becomes about
enabling participation in social spaces, enabling connections and relationships to form, and about
enabling identity-making. Privacy theory has always struggled with its public and social dimension
(and whether such a dimension exists at all). Modern shaming and the new technologies through
which it is deployed highlight that this public and social space is a critical arena where privacy should
be more fully accounted for.
I want to thank the participants in the 2015 Privacy Discussion Forum, hosted by Université
Paris, for their comments on a draft version of this article, as well as the participants of the 2016 Internet
Works-in-Progress conference, hosted by New York Law School, and British and Irish Law Education and
Technology Associate (BILETA) conference, hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, for their comments on my
presentation on the topic.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The author declares no conﬂict of interest.
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