The Streisand Effect is a peculiar phenomenon born from a reaction to the suppression of information, usually with help from the Internet. The term had a rather innocuous origin: it was coined after actress and singer Barbara Streisand filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have a photograph of her Malibu home removed from a website that documented coastal erosion in the state of California. Prior to this lawsuit, the image was only downloaded 6 times, and 2 of those were by her attorneys. However, as details of the case became public, over 420,000 people visited the site over the course of the next month.
The Internet is a living, breathing creature that is apathetic to individual preferences. It documents everything (almost) that is submitted to it, and it doesn’t respond well when someone tries to delete something. Once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours to control; your only defense is obscurity. Once the Streisand Effect takes hold, the more you struggle against it, the more it drags you under. Many have championed the Streisand Effect as a way of spreading and preserving truth, especially in the case of poor business practices. Here are two examples of this phenomenon at work:
Union Street Guest House – In 2014, a story broke out about a popular wedding venue charging clients $500 for each negative review the establishment received. Ridiculous as this policy sounds, it was even plainly stated in their agreement, which they tried to delete from their website the moment the story went viral. Much to their chagrin, the Wayback Machine keeps snapshots of websites, creating a sort of timeline of how these sites looked through time; the $500 charge policy can still be seen there. Furthermore, when the owner of the Union Street Guest House claimed it was only a joke that was not reinforced, the negative reviews came pouring in, dropping the venue’s star rating on Yelp to a measly 1 star.
Samsung and ghostlyrich – In late 2013, user ghostlyrich on YouTube posted a video of the Samsung Galaxy 4 catching fire when charged. Samsung later sends ghostlyrich a contract agreeing to remove the video. The contract then goes on to say that ghostlyrich must sign and agree to drop any negative claims against Samsung and their products, that he takes responsibility for the defect and damages, and that he’s not allowed to talk about the contract or make any future claims or lawsuits against the company. ghostlyrich did not sign the contract and posted a video about the contract. Both videos have over 1.5 million views each. See the second video here:
Condemning as these events may be, the Internet tends to have a short-term memory. People tend to forget and move on, so long as the company or product amends its mistakes and prevents them from happening again in the future. Sometimes the best option is to take your licks and apologize in a sincere and concise manner. Learn to recognize a situation where the Streisand Effect might come into play. Don’t fight it. The old adage “no publicity is bad publicity” does not apply when virality and mass online outrage comes into play.