May 09, 2014

What is the “Streisand effect?”

I have been following the story of the Amazon purchaser who was threatened with a lawsuit after posting a negative online review of a Medialink Router for a couple of days. I actually saw the original post yesterday on Reddit when the reviewer posted the letter from Medialink’s lawyer threatening to sue him. In many of the articles I’ve read about this today, they refer to Medialink experiencing the “Streisand effect.” This just makes me picture a group of execs sitting around a conference table with crummy music playing while Yentle is on the TV in the background. I assume this is not, in fact, the Streisand effect, but what is?

Streisand effect

"The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.[1][2]

Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand's mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs.[1][3][4] Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project, which was intended to influence government policymakers.[5][6] Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, "Image 3850" had been downloaded from Adelman's website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand's attorneys.[7] As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.[8]"

It’s when someone tries to prevent something from becoming public but because of their heavy-handed attempts at censorship, that thing actually becomes widely publicized. It’s called the “Streisand effect” because a photographer documenting coastal erosion took an aerial photo that included Barbara Streisand’s mansion. Her lawyer sent a cease and desist letter and sued the photographer and the organization running the project. The resulting publicity brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the website that had the image in question, the exact opposite of what Streisand wanted. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/streisand-effect 

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