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Streisand effect

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That Spanish man is Mario Costeja Gonzalez. This is his photo, which was on an article from the New York Times about his crusade to remove links mentioning his debts from 1998. In doing so, he is now world famous for being that Spanish guy with debts from 1998. The only thing I know about him is the only thing he didn't want me to know.
—John Oliver [1]

The Streisand effect is an Internet-coined name (although the effect predates the popular usage of the Internet) for a phenomenon whereby an attempt to censor or gag a report has led to great interest in the story or work that nobody would have noticed had they not attempted to ban or censor it in the first place.

Some people have proposed that it be called Streisand's Law on account of how inevitable the effect is.

Origin[edit]

Is this the picture that touched you, Babs?

The term was coined in 2005 by Mike Masnick, founder of the Techdirt website[2] after an incident that started in February, 2003, when Barbra Streisand's lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the California Coastal Records ProjectWikipedia's W.svg regarding the inclusion of a photo[3] of her Malibu beach house on its website. When the website operators rejected that letter and a followup letter, Babs sued.[4] On 3 December 2003, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a statement that they were dismissing the suit.

The previously not-famous CCRP website includes more than 12,000 overlapping aerial photos of the entire California coastline (with the exception of the area around Vandenberg Air Force Base), plus a collection of about 55,000 additional photos that currently date back to 1972.

Blogs and injunctions[edit]

In the modern world of blogs, there are no shortages of such examples as blogs have become a main means whereby people speak out, and often have a network of friends or collaborators just waiting to get pissed off — if one is censored, it will quickly be picked up by another. Censorship is obviously seen as an assault on free speech, and it is usually this aspect that attracts the attention, rather than the nature of the story itself — indeed, many of the stories are downright boring compared to the ensuing shitstorm about censorship.

So-called "gag orders"[5] and "super injunctions"[6] are designed by courts to limit the effect. These orders prevent the press not just from reporting an incident, but also from reporting or hinting that they've been prevented from reporting it! These are often used in privacy or libel battles, but if overturned or lifted, the Streisand effect is free to come out in full force. Indeed, it often comes out in fuller force thanks to the nature of the super-injunctions limits on free speech. Applying for, and failing to achieve, a super-injunction in court often leads to greater publicity for a scandal.

Examples[edit]

In publishing[edit]

  • Pick any banned book and there's a good chance the Streisand effect came into play at some point.[7] Indeed, some bookstores and libraries make a point of displaying and promoting banned books during "Banned Books Week," and attempts at suppressing some books turned them into best-sellers. Notable examples include Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and former MI5 officer Peter Wright's Spycatcher.Wikipedia's W.svg

In popular culture[edit]

  • Every year, PETA submits an over-the-top TV advertisement intended to run during the Super Bowl, usually with highly sexually-suggestive content. Every year, the network refuses to run the ad, making it an instant hit as people flock to view it on the web just to see what the fuss is all about. This illustrates the ways in which pressure groups and fringe groups might understand the Streisand effect and manipulate it to their advantage. This may not always be to a good end; for example, the controversy over the once-obscure The Turner Diaries eventually led to its being reprinted by a mainstream publisher and sold in major bookstores for several years in the 1990s.
  • The centerfold of the May 1967 issue of Paul Krasner's The Realist consisted of The Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, which depicted virtually the whole copyrighted Disney pantheon engaged in sex or drug acts. According to Krasner, "the Disney corporation considered a lawsuit but realized that The Realist had no real assets, and besides, why bother causing themselves any further public embarrassment?"[8]
  • An unusual case of this is Escape from TomorrowWikipedia's W.svg, a fictional movie set in Walt Disney World that is darkly satirical of Disney's culture and was filmed on location without permission. Disney's track record of aggressive copyright and trademark litigation as a method of silencing criticism gave the movie a very high profile after its Sundance premiere. Disney ultimately chose not to press charges, perhaps understanding they were unlikely to win and attempting to block it from distribution would only add digits to the viewer and revenue counts.[9]
  • Famously an important plot point of Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix: when an issue of the Quibbler with an interview with the main character (about the hushed up return of antagonist Voldemort) is banned by Dolores Umbridge (a Ministry appointed teacher/inspector), Hermione Granger is ecstatic saying: "Don't you see? There was no better way of ensuring that everyone would read it!".

In religion[edit]

  • The first Internet example was the Church of Scientology's attempts to suppress the Fishman AffidavitWikipedia's W.svg (which contained Church-copyrighted versions of Operating Thetan levels I-VII) in late 1995, which promptly resulted in hundreds of copies going up around the world.[10]

On the Internet[edit]

  • The YouTube video "YouTube vs The Users" by vlogger Thunderf00t was often promptly taken down and the accounts hosting it were suspended by the site, often without warning. As a result, the video was mirrored in dozens of accounts, some of them sockpuppet accounts, and hosted elsewhere where YouTube had no power. The video has now been viewed millions of times rather than the mere few thousand view that it would have obtained if left on Thunderf00t's channel.[11][12]
  • In a slight twist to the Streisand Effect (i.e., actually preventing it), the Twitter-mirroring website Tweleted (now defunct) stated that it can't and won't make exceptions and filter out individuals:

I can't add an exception without creating an 'exception list' … which would be visible to any user with mild amounts of technical experience, and instantly make your own history much, much more interesting to them. I can also guarantee that if I did censor the results, someone would, within hours, set up an 'uncensored' version of Tweleted explicitly designed to search — and advertise — those users on the exception list.[13]

  • In December 2013, a Youtube channel by the name of "ghostlyrich" uploaded a video about his Samsung Galaxy S4 phone catching fire. Three days after this video's release, Samsung sent him a letter asking him to remove the video and never upload any video relating to Samsung again. The video's views shot up instantaneously from a few thousand to nearly a million.[14]

In politics[edit]

Poster of the movie "The Interview" by Seth Rogen and James Franco.
  • A brief injunction against UK newspaper The Guardian regarding a fairly boring story about an MP raised the profile of the story across the Internet, with freedom of speech objections swamping most of Twitter. Guido Fawkes and The Spectator also reported the story, giving it far more prominence than it would have achieved if left alone.[15]
  • The InterviewWikipedia's W.svg, a 2014 Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy, criticised and ridiculed the North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Un and imagined his assassination. The North Koreans tried to censor it, threatening terrorism against venues screening the movie and (possibly) orchestrating a large-scale hack of distributor Sony Pictures' servers (allegedly; it's complicated[16]), which led Sony to cancel its release after a number of major theater chains balked at showing it. Even though the film was getting mixed reviews beforehand, North Korea's reaction made The Interview into a cause celebre for anti-censorship activists. A limited release of The Interview online and in select theaters became an immediate, very profitable smash hit.[17]
  • Hasan Minhaj, a comedian who runs the show Patriot Act, ran an episode on Saudi Arabia in which it criticized the Saudi Arabian regime and the U.S.A's lack of will to do anything about the killing of Jamal Khassoghi. Saudi Arabia then tried to have it banned, but this caused Patriot Act to become much more popular.[18]

In business[edit]

  • In October 2009, Ralph Lauren issued a DMCA complaint against Photoshop Disasters for criticising and reposting some of their advertising.[23] Although the company later apologised for the shoddy photoshopping, they went and did the exact same thing again a few weeks later.[24]
  • Google's Street View project has often caused controversy amongst privacy campaigners. But requests to blur and black-out some places in Germany backfired when they were targeted for vandalism. Evidently they didn't realise that deliberately blurred or blacked images draw more attention that just plain, uninteresting houses.[25]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Right To Be Forgotten
  2. BBC Magazine — The perils of the Streisand effect
  3. Image number 3850 on their website. It is now more widely available and seen than would be expected if the photographer wasn't sued and the California Coastal Records Project was left on its own.
  4. Streisand v. Adelman (2003), case number SC 077 257
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Gag order.
  6. BBC News — Take That star Howard Donald's super-injunction lifted
  7. See Time's Top 10 Censored Books for some prime examples.
  8. The Disneyland Memorial Orgy by Paul Krassner (05/25/2011 11:45 am ET) Huffington Post.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Escape from Tomorrow § Legal issues.
  10. Fishman affidavit
  11. Rational Responders
  12. Why We Protest — Youtube vs The Users
  13. [1]
  14. http://www.upi.com/blog/2013/12/11/S4-catches-fire-Samsung-tries-to-silence-report/5041386799076/
  15. BBC News &mdmash; When is a secret not a secret?
  16. "Did the FBI get it wrong on North Korea?" CBS News, 23 December 2014 (recovered 1 August 2015).
  17. The Interview makes $15m in online release
  18. Netflix Row: Hasan Minhaj pokes fun at removal of show criticizing Saudi Arabia
  19. WeChat and the Surveillance State, Stephen McDonell, BBC News, 7 June 2019
  20. As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight, New York Times, 1 February 2020
  21. Coronavirus 2019-nCoV Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE
  22. 'Hero who told the truth': Chinese rage over coronavirus death of whistleblower doctor, the Guardian, 7 February 2020
  23. How To Turn A Photoshop Disaster Into A Photoshop Catastrophe. Archived from the original at photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com.
  24. The Hits Keep Coming. Archived from the original at photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com.
  25. BBC News — German vandals target Street View opt-out homes