The term “Streisand Effect” may sound like it’s tied to some groundbreaking scientific discovery, but it’s actually named after the famous American singer and actress, Barbra Streisand. The term was coined in 2005 and refers to an unexpected and counter-intuitive social phenomenon where efforts to suppress or censor information backfire, leading to the unintended consequence of the information being widely publicized and shared even more than before.
2. The Origin Story
The Streisand Effect was named after an incident involving Barbra Streisand in 2003. A photographer named Kenneth Adelman had taken aerial shots of the California coastline for the California Coastal Records Project. He intended to document coastal erosion. One of these photographs included Streisand’s Malibu home. Despite the image being among 12,000 others and not specifically identifying her home, Streisand sued Adelman and the associated website for $50 million. She asserted that the photo violated her privacy rights.
However, Streisand’s efforts to maintain her privacy unintentionally drew more attention to the photograph. Prior to the lawsuit, the picture had only been downloaded from Adelman’s website six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s lawyers. After the lawsuit became public, the photograph gained widespread attention, receiving over 420,000 views in the following month.
3. Examples of The Streisand Effect in Action
Since the original incident, the Streisand Effect has occurred multiple times, especially in the digital age where information spreads quickly.
In 2008, a blog post detailing weaknesses in the Church of Scientology’s operations resulted in a takedown notice from the Church. Instead of disappearing, the information proliferated across other sites, leading to more awareness and criticism of the Church.
In 2009, the UK law firm Carter-Ruck tried to suppress a report about its client Trafigura, a commodity trading company involved in a toxic waste scandal. A gag order initially prevented The Guardian from reporting on the issue. A judge lifted the order after intense public outcry and online sharing of the information.
The Power of the Streisand Effect
The Streisand Effect highlights the immense power of the internet and social media in the spread of information. It also illustrates the backlash that can result from attempts to suppress it. The digital age has shifted control over information from those with traditional power (like celebrities, corporations, governments) to the broader public.
This phenomenon raises important considerations for public figures, companies, and institutions in how they handle potentially damaging information. Attempting to suppress such information can often make matters worse. It can even cause more harm to a reputation than ignoring it or addressed it openly.