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Streisand effect

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

The Streisand effect is the common and counterproductive result of attempting to suppress information about something, such that public awareness of it increases significantly.

The term is a reference to events surrounding the publication of pictures of Barbara Streisand’s house on the now-defunct pictopia.com. Photographer Kenneth Addleman had been taking photographs of the California coast documenting coastal erosion; one image included the star’s home. Streisand responded to publication of the photo with a failed lawsuit that drew public attention to the picture, drove  traffic substantially and resulted in over 420,000 hits over the next month.

Mike Masnick coined the term “Streisand effect” on techdirt.com, discussing how attempts by a holiday resort to have photos of its urinal removed from urinal.net backfired. Masnick mused, “How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don't like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let's call it the Streisand effect.”

Other illustrations of the Streisand effect include an incident involving Matt Inman of The Oatmeal. When content aggregator site FunnyJunk for plagiarized The Oatmeal’s cartoons, Inman called the site owner out for using bots to steal content and blaming user uploads when faced with copyright claims. FunnyJunk’s owner responded by suing Inman for $20,000 for defamation of character and demanding to have Inman’s content about FunnyJunk removed. In response, Inman launched a derisive Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise the equivalent in funds requested by the suit (to be given to charity), while simultaneously and humorously exposing lies in the frivolous suit's letter. In the end, the suit drew much more attention to the Oatmeal’s content about FunnyJunk than would otherwise have been the case and the suit was dropped.

This was last updated in May 2016

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