Streisand effect

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Image of Barbra Streisand's Malibu house which she attempted to suppress

The Streisand effect is a 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 an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.[1]

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress files, websites, and even numbers. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.[2][3]

Origin of the term[edit]

Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined[4] the term in 2005 in relation to a holiday resort issuing a takedown notice to (a site dedicated to photographs of urinals) over use of the resort's name.[5]

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.[5]

The term alluded to Barbra Streisand, who had sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for violation of privacy.[6] 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.[2][7][8] Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project, which was intended to influence government policymakers.[9][10] 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.[11] As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased greatly; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.[12] The lawsuit was dismissed and Streisand was ordered to pay Adelman's legal fees, which amounted to $155,567.[13][14][15]

In politics[edit]

When the French intelligence agency DCRI tried to delete Wikipedia's article about the military radio station of Pierre-sur-Haute in 2013, and call it "classified", the article became the most viewed page on French Wikipedia.

In November 2007, Tunisia blocked access to YouTube and Dailymotion after material was posted depicting Tunisian political prisoners. Activists and their supporters then started to link the location of then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's palace on Google Earth to videos about civil liberties in general. The Economist said this "turned a low-key human-rights story into a fashionable global campaign".[16]

The French intelligence agency DCRI's deletion of the French-language Wikipedia article about the military radio station of Pierre-sur-Haute[17] resulted in the article temporarily becoming the most-viewed page on the French Wikipedia.[18]

A 2013 libel suit by Theodore Katsanevas against a Greek Wikipedia editor resulted in members of the project bringing the story to the attention of journalists.[19]

The government of South Africa stated their intention to ban the 2017 book The President's Keepers, detailing corruption within the government of Jacob Zuma. This caused sales of the book to spike dramatically causing the book to sell out within 24 hours before the ban would supposedly be put into effect.[20][21] This made the book a national best seller and led to multiple reprints.

By businesses[edit]

In April 2007, a group of companies that used Advanced Access Content System (AACS) encryption issued cease-and-desist letters demanding that the system's numerical key be removed from several high-profile websites, including Digg. This led to the key's proliferation across other sites and chat rooms in various formats, with one commentator describing it as having become "the most famous number on the Internet".[22] Within a month, the key had been reprinted on over 280,000 pages, had been printed on T-shirts and tattoos, and had appeared on YouTube in a song played over 45,000 times.[23]

In September 2009, multi-national oil company Trafigura obtained a super-injunction to prevent The Guardian newspaper from reporting on an internal Trafigura investigation into the 2006 Ivory Coast toxic waste dump scandal, and also from reporting on even the existence of the injunction. Using parliamentary privilege, Labour MP Paul Farrelly referred to the super-injunction in a parliamentary question, and on October 12, 2009, The Guardian reported that it had been gagged from reporting on the parliamentary question, in violation of the 1689 Bill of Rights.[24][25] Blogger Richard Wilson correctly identified the blocked question as referring to the Trafigura waste dump scandal, after which The Spectator suggested the same. Not long after, Trafigura began trending on Twitter, helped along by Stephen Fry's retweeting the story to his followers.[26] Twitter users soon tracked down all details of the case, and by October 16, the super-injunction had been lifted and the report published.[27]

In November 2012, Casey Movers, a Boston moving company, threatened to sue a woman in Hingham District Court for libel in response to a negative Yelp review. The woman's husband wrote a blog post about the situation, which was then picked up by Techdirt.[28] and Consumerist.[29] By the end of the week, the company was reviewed by the Better Business Bureau, which later revoked its accreditation.[30]

In December 2013, YouTube user ghostlyrich uploaded video proof that his Samsung Galaxy S4 battery had spontaneously caught fire. Samsung had demanded proof before honoring its warranty. Once Samsung learned of the YouTube video, it added additional conditions to its warranty, demanding ghostlyrich delete his YouTube video, promise not to upload similar material, officially absolve the company of all liability, waive his right to bring a lawsuit, and never make the terms of the agreement public. Samsung also demanded that a witness cosign the settlement proposal. When ghostlyrich shared Samsung's settlement proposal online, his original video drew 1.2 million views in one week.[31][32]

In August 2014, it was reported that Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, had a policy that "there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH [Union Street Guest House] placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event."[33] The policy had been used in an attempt to suppress an unfavorable November 2013 Yelp review.[34] Thousands of negative reviews of the policy were posted to Yelp and other review sites.[35]

By other organizations[edit]

In January 2008, The Church of Scientology's attempts to get Internet websites to delete a video of Tom Cruise speaking about Scientology resulted in the creation of Project Chanology.[36][37][38]

On December 5, 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) added the English Wikipedia article about the 1976 Scorpions album Virgin Killer to a child pornography blacklist, considering the album's cover art "a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18".[36] The article quickly became one of the most popular pages on the site,[39] and the publicity surrounding the IWF action resulted in the image being spread across other sites.[40] The IWF was later reported on the BBC News website to have said "IWF's overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect".[41] This effect was also noted by the IWF in its statement about the removal of the URL from the blacklist.[42][43]

In June 2012, Argyll and Bute Council banned a nine-year-old primary school pupil from updating her blog, NeverSeconds, with photos of lunchtime meals served in the school's canteen. The blog, which was already popular, started receiving a large number of views due to the international media furor that followed the ban. Within days, the council reversed its decision under immense public pressure and scrutiny. After the reversal of the ban, the blog became more popular than it was before.[44]

In April 2016, it was revealed that officials at the University of California, Davis, including Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, paid consultants at least $175,000 to scrub the internet of stories about Katehi and the administration's involvement in the 2011 UC Davis pepper-spray incident. News of the payments brought the event back into the news, adding to negative press in the wake of revelation about Katehi's involvement on outside boards. On April 27, 2016, University of California President Janet Napolitano removed Katehi from her post and placed her on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into possible violations of university policies.[45] Following the investigation, Katehi was given 1 year paid leave on August 9, 2016.[46][47]

By individuals[edit]

In May 2011, Premier League footballer Ryan Giggs sued Twitter after a user revealed that Giggs was the subject of an anonymous privacy injunction (informally referred to as a "super-injunction"[48]) that prevented the publication of details regarding an alleged affair with model and former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas. A blogger for the Forbes website observed that the British media, which were banned from breaking the terms of the injunction, had mocked the footballer for not understanding the effect.[49] The Guardian subsequently posted a graph detailing—without naming the player—the number of references to the player's name against time, showing a large spike following the news that the player was seeking legal action.[50]

Similar situations involving super-injunctions in England and Wales have occurred, one involving Jeremy Clarkson.[51] Since January 2016 a celebrity (later revealed outside England and Wales to be David Furnish) used the injunction granted in PJS v News Group Newspapers to prevent media in England and Wales reporting events that have been featured in Scottish media and on the internet.[52][53]

The Streisand effect has been observed in relation to the right to be forgotten, as a litigant attempting to remove information from search engines risks the litigation itself being reported as valid, current news.[54][55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burnett, Dean (May 22, 2015). "Why government censorship [in no way at all] carries greater risks than benefits". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Canton, David (November 5, 2005). "Today's Business Law: Attempt to suppress can backfire". London Free Press. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2007. The 'Streisand effect' is what happens when someone tries to suppress something and the opposite occurs. The act of suppressing it raises the profile, making it much more well known than it ever would have been.
  3. ^ Mugrabi, Sunshine (January 22, 2007). "YouTube—Censored? Offending Paula Abdul clips are abruptly taken down". Red Herring. Archived from the original on February 18, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Another unintended consequence of this move could be that it extends the kerfuffle over Ms. Abdul's behavior rather than quelling it. Mr. Nguyen called this the 'Barbra Streisand effect', referring to that actress's insistence that paparazzi photos of her mansion not be used
  4. ^ Siegel, Robert (February 29, 2008). "The Streisand Effect' Snags Effort to Hide Documents". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Archived from the original on March 6, 2018. The episode is the latest example of a phenomenon known as the 'Streisand Effect.' Robert Siegel talks with Mike Masnick, CEO of Techdirt Inc., who coined the term.
  5. ^ a b Masnick, Mike (January 8, 2015). "For 10 Years Everyone's Been Using 'The Streisand Effect' Without Paying; Now I'm Going to Start Issuing Takedowns". Techdirt. Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  6. ^ "The perils of the Streisand Effect". BBC News Magazine. July 31, 2014. Archived from the original on January 13, 2016.
  7. ^ Bernoff, Josh; Charlene Li (2008). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. p. 7. ISBN 1-4221-2500-9.
  8. ^ "Since When Is It Illegal to Just Mention a Trademark Online?". Techdirt. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012.
  9. ^ "Barbra Sues Over Aerial Photos". The Smoking Gun. May 30, 2003. Archived from the original on April 17, 2011. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  10. ^ Link includes lawsuit filings. Streisand was ordered to pay $177,107.54 in court and legal fees. The site has an image of the $155,567.04 check Streisand paid for Adelman's legal fees. Archived April 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Tentative ruling, page 6, stating, "Image 3850 was download six times, twice to the Internet address of counsel for plaintiff". In addition, two prints of the picture were ordered—one by Streisand's counsel and one by Streisand's neighbor. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Rogers, Paul (June 24, 2003). "Photo of Streisand home becomes an Internet hit". San Jose Mercury News, mirrored at Archived from the original on July 30, 2013. Retrieved June 15, 2007.
  13. ^ Streisand v. Adelman, et al., in California Superior Court; Case SC077257
  14. ^ Adelman, Kenneth (May 13, 2007). "Barbra Streisand Sues to Suppress Free Speech Protection for Widely Acclaimed Website". California Coastal Records Project. Archived from the original on April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  15. ^ "Streisand's Lawsuit to Silence Coastal Website Dismissed" (Press release). December 3, 2003. Archived from the original on July 6, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  16. ^ "Blog standard: Authoritarian governments can lock up bloggers. It is harder to outwit them". The Economist. June 26, 2008. Archived from the original on January 24, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2010. WHAT do Barbra Streisand and the Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, have in common? They both tried to block material they dislike from appearing on the internet.
  17. ^ Communiqué from the Wikimedia Foundation, April 6, 2013[better source needed]
  18. ^ Geuss, Megan. "Wikipedia editor allegedly forced by French intelligence to delete "classified" entry". Archived from the original on April 8, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  19. ^ Sampson, Tim (February 19, 2014). "Greek politician who sued Wikipedia editor clearly never heard of the Streisand Effect". Daily Dot. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  20. ^ Watson, Amanda. "Pauw's new book is in the public interest". The Citizen. Retrieved 2018-08-18.
  21. ^ "First 20,000 'The President's Keepers' books sold". 5 November 2017. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  22. ^ Stone, Brad (May 3, 2007). "In Web Uproar, Antipiracy Code Spreads Wildly". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. The ironic thing is, because they tried to quiet it down it's the most famous number on the Internet.
  23. ^ Greenberg, Andy (May 11, 2007). "The Streisand Effect". Forbes. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008. Retrieved February 29, 2008. The phenomenon takes its name from Barbra Streisand, who made her own ill-fated attempt at reining in the Web in 2003. That's when environmental activist Kenneth Adelman posted aerial photos of Streisand's Malibu beach house on his Web site as part of an environmental survey, and she responded by suing him for $50 million. Until the lawsuit, few people had spotted Streisand's house, Adelman says—but the lawsuit brought more than a million visitors to Adelman's Web site, he estimates. Streisand's case was dismissed, and Adelman's photo was picked up by the Associated Press and reprinted in newspapers around the world.
  24. ^ Leigh, David (October 12, 2009). "Guardian gagged from reporting parliament". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  25. ^ Leigh, David (October 13, 2009). "Guardian seeks urgent court hearing over parliament reporting gag". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  26. ^ Jacobson, Seth. "Twitter claims new scalp as Trafigura backs down". The First Post. Archived from the original on August 28, 2010. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  27. ^ Beckford, Martin; Watt, Holly (October 16, 2009). "Secret Trafigura report said 'likely cause' of illness was release of toxic gas from dumped waste". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017.
  28. ^ Masnick, Mike. "Latest Company to Discover the Streisand Effect: Casey Movers". Techdirt. Archived from the original on November 17, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  29. ^ Moran, Chris. "Moving Company Picks The Wrong Person To Threaten To Sue Over Bad Yelp Review". Consumerist. Archived from the original on November 16, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  30. ^ "Casey Moving Company". Better Business Bureau. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  31. ^ Klee, Miles. "Samsung's Response to a Customer whose Phone Caught Fire Only Made Things Worse". Daily Dot. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  32. ^ Levy, Gabrielle (December 11, 2013). "S4 catches fire, Samsung tries to silence report". United Press International. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  33. ^ Siegler, Mara (August 4, 2014). "Hotel fines $500 for every bad review posted online". Page Six, New York Post. Archived from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  34. ^ Simon R. (2013). "Union Street Guest House: Hudson, NY (review)". Yelp. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  35. ^ "This Hotel Fines Customers $500 for Bad Reviews (Yes, There's a Better Approach)". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  36. ^ a b Arthur, Charles (March 20, 2009). "The Streisand effect: Secrecy in the digital age". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on September 6, 2013. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  37. ^ "The Streisand Effect: When Internet Censorship Backfires". Complex. July 24, 2009. Archived from the original on April 29, 2010. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  38. ^ "What is 'The Streisand Effect'?". The Daily Telegraph. London. January 31, 2009. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  39. ^ Metz, Cade (December 7, 2008). "Brit ISPs censor Wikipedia over 'child porn' album cover". The Register. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  40. ^ Moses, Asher (December 8, 2008). "Wikipedia added to child pornography blacklist". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on September 17, 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  41. ^ "IWF backs down on Wiki censorship". BBC News Online. December 9, 2008. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  42. ^ "Living with the Streisand Effect". International Herald Tribune. December 26, 2008. Archived from the original on January 14, 2009. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
  43. ^ "IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage" (Press release). Internet Watch Foundation. December 9, 2008. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  44. ^ Cacciottolo, Mario (June 15, 2012). "The Streisand Effect: When censorship backfires". BBC News. Archived from the original on March 11, 2016.
  45. ^ Fuller, Thomas (April 28, 2016). "U.C. Davis Chancellor, Accused of Violations, Is Removed From Post". Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  46. ^ "UC Davis chancellor resigns following probe into ethical violations". Los Angeles Times. August 9, 2016. Archived from the original on August 29, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  47. ^ "UC Davis chancellor who resigned after ethics probe to return as professor". LA Times. August 1, 2017. Archived from the original on September 19, 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  48. ^ Townend, Judith (May 20, 2011). "Lord Neuberger's report cuts through the superinjunction hysteria". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on December 22, 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  49. ^ Hill, Kashmir (September 30, 2009). "He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named (In The UK) Sues Twitter Over A User Naming Him". Forbes. Archived from the original on May 22, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2011. Apparently, though, CTB's lawyers have not heard of the "Streisand effect".
  50. ^ Sabbagh, Dan (May 20, 2011). "Twitter and the mystery footballer". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on December 21, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  51. ^ Garavelli, Dani (March 14, 2015). "End of the road for Clarkson?". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on April 25, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  52. ^ "This celebrity injunction will probably rebound—a case of the 'Streisand effect'". The Guardian. London. April 11, 2016. Archived from the original on April 14, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  53. ^ "British papers can report Furnish's infidelity". The Straits Times. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  54. ^ "Google's right to be forgotten creates Streisand effect". Recombu. July 3, 2014. Archived from the original on December 8, 2014.
  55. ^ "Techno File: Exercising 'right to be forgotten' could spark 'Streisand effect'". BDlive. July 23, 2014. Archived from the original on July 25, 2014.

External links[edit]