Streisand Effect

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Barbra Streisand doesn't want you to see this picture. Well done, Barbra.
"I'm not against violence - I'm against censorship, because withholding Cock Haemhorrage IV from your kids only makes them more interested. If you stopped making a big deal about it, maybe they'll recognise it for the glimmering hate-vaccuum that it is."

If it becomes known that someone of power, fame, or influence is using strong measures to attempt to suppress a piece of information or a work, then many people will want to know what it is even if they never cared before.

Something horribly embarrassing or personal about you is released—perhaps a sex tape, or a rather embarrassing photograph—and you want that information locked back up. So you do whatever it takes to make the information go away: lawsuits, cease-and-desists, DMCA takedowns, whatever you have at hand. But instead of the information remaining obscure, the information becomes more widely known as the efforts to censor it become public, and people who would otherwise be uninterested are curious as to what the commotion is about. The information gets mirrored and copied and spread at a much faster rate than before the censorship attempt, often to the dismay and frustration of those trying to prevent it, and becoming a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

This has come to be known as the Streisand Effect; blogger Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the phrase in response to the Trope Namer, Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to sue a photographer for taking a picture of her house and to have the photo taken down from his website led to more people learning about the existence of the photo and quickly mirroring the photo on multiple websites as a Take That to Streisand. It should be noted that this wasn't some paparazzo taking pictures specifically of her house; rather, it was part of the California Costal Records Project, a government-commissioned photographic study of the entire California coast. This is traditionally an Internet-based trope, since the spread of information is much faster and easier across the 'Net than through other means.

Psychologists have done studies and found that the subjects' desire for any kind of potentially censorable material increased when the subjects were told that it was censored. The old Forbidden Fruit principle in action, in other words. Perhaps any authority considering the use of censorship should worry that this move might be counterproductive if it just gets people interested in the censored material.

Not to be confused with No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, which is very similar, but occurs when Moral Guardians attack something and draw more attention to it. This trope is basically that but without the Moral Guardians.

A form of Revealing Coverup. Sometimes related to Clumsy Copyright Censorship. See also Internet Counterattack. Basically opposite to Forced Meme, where the individual or company tries to make something as popular as possible, and fails in much the same way for much the same reasons.

Examples of Streisand Effect include:

Film[edit | hide | hide all]

  • For lovers of exploitation films, the old list of Video Nasties put together by the British government makes a great place to start.
  • If a movie is banned, expect lots of viewers to seek for it illegally.
  • A combination of the two examples above; by banning The Human Centipede 2 in the UK, the BBFC managed to give it large amounts of international publicity for free.
  • Independent film loves to exploit this. Basically this is the entire reason so many independent films, and virtually all on the Independent Film Channel, are about druggie male prostitutes whose fathers molested them.
  • Citizen Kane notably averted this. It seems that William Randolph Hearst was well aware of this trope. Rather than having his media empire attack the film, he forbade them from mentioning it at all. It worked. Although the film managed to make enough to break its budget, the lack of publicity prevented it from being a success, and it was largely forgotten about until its revival.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • A rare fictional example: In Harry Potter, Hermione is delighted when Umbridge threatens to expel anyone caught with a copy of Harry's Quibbler interview, because of course that guarantees that everyone will find a way to get their hands on it. It helps that the Quibbler is so innocuous that most people were buying it just to figure out what on earth it printed to warrant getting banned.
  • Lynne Cheney (wife of Dick) wrote a novel in 1981 called Sisters, featuring sexual content and lesbianism -- her attempts to prevent a 2006 reprint actually helped publicize it.
  • McDonald's sued a small activist group over a flier being passed out at one of its restaurants, that alleged certain wrongdoings by the fast food chain. If left alone only a couple hundred people may have seen it, but the trial ended up taking over a decade and got international media attention. After spending millions on lawyers, McDonald's was awarded £60,000 in damage from the activists. Of course, it could be argued that the value of dissuading others from attempting libel was more important to them than the costs of the single trial.
  • Fox's lawsuit against Al Franken over his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, claiming the the title infringed on the "Fair and Balanced" slogan of the Fox News Channel. Franken and his supporters still insist the real man behind the suit was Bill O'Reilly for what Franken said about him in the book. News of the lawsuit caused the book to shoot up to Amazon's number one seller before it was even officially released. As for the suit - many of the prosecution's arguments were met with actual laughter in the courtroom, and Fox dismissed the suit at the judge's recommendation.
  • A minor example from 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the author of the worst poetry in the universe is named in the original radio show as "Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, Essex" - a former schoolmate of Douglas Adams, who wrote deliberately terrible poetry and who respectfully asked that his name and location be removed from the book adaptations. Thus people now ask why the name changed from Paul to a 'Paula' in Sussex in subsequent versions and discover the story of where Adams got the idea from.
  • President Donald Trump's reaction to Fire and Fury, a derogatory tell-all written by Michael Wolff, could well serve as a critic's lesson on how not to dissuade someone from reading a book. After passages of the book were leaked, Trump launched an explosive rant on Twitter condemning the book, while his wife, daughter, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemned it publicly. Trump even sent a cease and desist letter to the publisher threatening a lawsuit if it was released, even as pre-sales on Amazon were reaching record numbers. As a result, the publisher actually released it four days early to meet demands, and it shot to the heights of the bestseller lists in a matter of hours. Many major booksellers reported lines outside their stores not seen since they had new Harry Potter releases, selling out stock in two minutes.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Fawlty Towers and its main character Basil Fawlty was based on Donald Sinclair, an eccentric and irascible Torquay hotelier whom John Cleese had observed during a stay in his hotel during a Monty Python's Flying Circus shoot. Years after the success of the show, Sinclair's widow contacted the newspapers to complain about the depiction of the character based on her husband, claiming that Cleese had unfairly exaggerated his eccentricity, incompetence and foul temper. Far from salvaging her husband's reputation, however, all it did was provoke a lot of independent witnesses to also contact the papers with a lot of anecdotes that suggested that not only was Cleese not too far off the mark, if anything he'd actually been rather generous. His widow kept silent after that.
    • John Cleese ended up using the name "Donald Sinclair" for his character in Rat Race.
    • And now readers of this site know that Basil Fawlty was modeled after an actual person, which they might never have guessed otherwise.
  • Australia's Channel Nine promoted the beans out of Underbelly, and Australians were certainly interested in this tale of the gangsters they heard about on the news. However the legal battles the show faced with issues such as the concurrent court cases leading to it being banned in Victoria out of fear of influencing the jury made this something of a Forbidden Fruit for Victorians, and interest in the show exploded to the point where radio hosts would take calls about the series being offered bootleg at construction sites, then say where they got their own illegitimate copies from.

Magazines[edit | hide]

  • Suing Private Eye for libel never does anyone any good. All it does is draw out the Eye's story and attract the attention of other news sources. Even if you win, no-one has enough faith in British libel law (or the Eye's ability to defend a case) to believe that this means it isn't true.

Music[edit | hide]

  • After the release of the Queen song "Death on Two Legs," former band manager Norman Sheffield decided to sue for defamation, despite the fact that he was never mentioned by name. He succeeded only in informing the world whom the song's scathing insults were targeting.
  • Metallica's hardline stance on peer-to-peer downloading resulted only in their songs being even more widely pirated. Other bands were hit by this to a lesser degree.
  • Drake averts this, in fact he almost inverts this. Even though both of his albums have been leaked ahead of time, he usually is okay with it, though his record company is not as happy...
  • 2Live Crew's music from the late 80s was mediocre, but after Tipper Gore announced she was trying to censor it, you couldn't escape the album.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Penny Arcade's legal run-in with American Greetings over a Strawberry Shortcake parody image resulted in the image being spread across the Internet on such a wide basis that it's very easy to find the image nowadays, even though it's no longer on the Penny Arcade site. To this day, Archive Bingers are taking note of AG's overly-protective legal department. Given the near-universal demographic and high fungibility of the greeting card industry, it's safe to say that they're still losing the occasional sale to it.
  • Freefall: Sam Starfall has apparently had previous practical demonstrations of this trope, according to this strip

Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.

  • David Gonterman is one of the earliest cases of the Streisand Effect going way back to 1995-1998. Initially an unexceptional fanfiction writer and comic artist with enough weirdness to attract a number of MSTs, he invoked the effect when he started throwing tantrums over any criticism and went on a crusade to get all his works deleted from the internet. A number of websites dedicated to archiving his works popped up. On the flip side, were it not for this effect, he would never have achieved the Z-list cult celebrity status he enjoys today.
  • In the same vein as David Gonterman is Christian Weston Chandler, creator of Sonichu. Initially just a random comic artist with big, yet child-like, dreams, the effect kicked in after a random encounter with a member of 4chan lead to the creation of an Encyclopedia Dramatica web page. His attempts to get rid of it and the incidents it caused on the Internet and in real life would lead to more people to find out more about this man and his creation. And a whole lot more, that's a completely different story.
  • The MPAA encountered this in 2007; it attempted to stop popular social aggregator Digg from allowing an encryption key to the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats from being posted with a DMCA takedown. When the takedown attempt became public knowledge, hundreds of stories containing the key were submitted and upvoted on Digg. For hours, dozens of repetitions of the magic number formed literally the only content on the entire front page of the site. Simultaneously, dozens of other websites mirrored the key in defiance of the censorship. Eventually, Digg executives threw up their hands and said, "Fine. You guys want this information here so bad, so we won't try to stop you anymore." And the MPAA couldn't really do anything about it, because the way Digg works, the chances were slightly worse than "hopeless" that the initial DMCA takedown would have really worked anyway. In layman's terms, the legal system only works because people let it; if enough people refuse to, the law has nothing it can actually do about it. More people probably can recognize the string of numbers that who ever bought a HD-DVD player.
    • Predictably, some people posted the encryption key on That Other Wiki, and the administration wanted to have it removed. This led to the same effect in miniature, as other editors copied the key to their user pages and let it spread like wildfire all over again.
  • The Church of Scientology ran afoul of the effect in 2008, and probably wishes they could turn back time and take it all back: their DMCA takedown of a video on YouTube of Tom Cruise talking about Scientology resulted in the eventual creation of Project Chanology, the ongoing Internet-based crusade to have the Church's status as a religion revoked and to bring to light the various wrongdoings of the Church. Similarly, after Chanology's creation, attempts by Scientology to have specific documents about the Church and the religion itself erased from the Internet have failed miserably, with mirrors popping up almost as soon as a takedown attempt is issued.
    • Perhaps the Trope Codifier is Scientology's attempt to shut down alt.religion.scientology in 1995. From this point on, it's called Scientology vs. the Internet.
    • You'd think that the Church "probably wishes they could turn back time and take it all back", but you'd be dead wrong: Scientology's founder, Hubbard, said that when dealing with criticism "never defend, always attack". This has led the Church to shoot themselves in the foot so often that Scientology critics coined a term for it, "footbullet". So it's a good bet that if they had the chance to go it all over again they'd either do it exactly the same, or turn it Up to Eleven.
  • In 2009, an advertisement from fashion company Ralph Lauren was posted on the blog "Photoshop Disasters" and tech news website Boing Boing because of the excessively thin appearance of the model in the ad. Ralph Lauren sent a DMCA takedown notice to both Blogspot (the host of "Photoshop Disasters") and Boing Boing; while Blogspot removed the post, Boing Boing refused on the grounds of Fair Use and publicly mocked the takedown notice in a satirical rebuttal. From there, the story picked up steam and was talked about on hundreds of other websites and blogs - each one mirroring the ad in question.
    • Days later, Ralph Lauren apologized—for the horrible Photoshop, not for the DMCA takedown notice.
  • In February 2010, Microsoft forced security Web site Cryptome offline with a DMCA takedown notification to their hosting company, due to Cryptome hosting Microsoft's "Global Criminal Compliance Handbook" - a guide on the surveillance services Microsoft performs for law enforcement agencies on its online platforms - for all to see. When Cryptome went down, the web replied in kind, with many sites hosting the document themselves in protest of the DMCA takedown. Microsoft eventually saw what kind of a backlash they were risking, and backpedaled quite furiously: they pulled the takedown notice, apologized to Cryptome and its readers (saying they only wanted to have the document taken down, not the entire site), and worked with Cryptome's hosting company to get the site back up as fast as possible.
  • iPood. Not quite a Flame War fuel, but still got 753,000 results on Google (as of October 2011).
  • Wikileaks. The U.S. government felt huge concern when Wikileaks stated that it would leak something very big. Much to their fear, they leaked 250,000 cables, pissing them off enough that the Pentagon was reported to have been looking for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's location. Needless to say, more people have heard about it. And for a time Google suggested it when you typed the very first letter of its name, suggesting it above even The Other Wiki.
  • Once a woman in Wisconsin[1] posted a comment on a blog. The blog owner later let the blog's domain name lapse, and it was taken over by a namesquatter who redirected visitors to various sexually explicit Web sites. Some time later, the lady did a Yahoo! search on her own name and was mortified to find that one of the links in the result set led to porn. She set out to restore her good name and reputation, and figured that the best way to do this would be to sue Yahoo! for willful malicious defamation. In open court, where she offered to prove that she is a sophisticated, well-educated and highly intelligent professional woman, with important and valuable friends, that she in no way has ever engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle, or other overt sexual activities, and that she has written two poems that appear on Danish Web sites supporting the preservation of the baby seal population in eastern Canada. For this she was roundly ridiculed in the blogosphere. Then it appears that Anonymous took an interest in the case. Guess what the poor lady now finds when she Googles herself?
    • That's right, folks, the weirdest effect of Streisand Effect ever: stories about the controversy about the controversy. Yep, somehow, public coverage on the whole thing smokescreens the original concern. So uh. Good job?
  • When British footballer Ryan Giggs was caught having an affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, his lawyers filed a super-injunction to keep Thomas from selling her story and the news media from revealing his name. Many news channels and magazines took offence to that, starting a debate on the nature of super-injunctions and using many Suspiciously Specific Denials to hint at his identity. When his name was revealed on Twitter, he had his lawyers try and sue Twitter for ignoring the injunction. Twitter, of course, is not bound by UK law and this action only caused many celebrities and ordinary users hitting back by revealing his name in their feeds. Congratulations, Giggs: You made an enemy of both the Old Media and the New Media and turned a one-shot story that would have grabbed the attention of a small portion of the public for a few days into a national debate that went on for weeks, while becoming the laughing stock of the foreign media, who are not bound by UK laws.
    • The entire mess eventually reached Parliament, where questions were raised about how relevant the law was considering the rise of social media. You know you messed up when the Prime Minister is talking about your affair.

MP John Hemming: It would not be practical to imprison the 75,000 Twitter users who had named the player.

  • A debate between Jerry Coyne and John Haught on the subject of compatibility between science and religion ended with the audience firmly on the side of Coyne. After this Haught refused to allow the video of the debate to be distributed. The backlash to this refusal reached far more people than would normally have been bothered to watch a one-hour academic debate.
  • In 2008, The Other Wiki's page of the Scorpions' "Virgin Killer" album became one of the most popular pages on the site after the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation blacklisted it for containing "a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18", and the image was even spread across other sites as a result of the publicity. The IWF de-listed it three days later.
  • The University of California, Davis ran right smack into the Streisand Effect in April 2016, when it was discovered that they had paid at least $175,000 to two different PR firms to scrub the Internet of any references to the infamous 2011 "Pepper Spray Incident", the source of the "Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop" meme. Naturally, when the Sacramento Bee discovered this in records acquired via the Freedom of Information Act, the entire affair immediately shot to the forefront of the Net's collective attention, accomplishing exactly the opposite of what the University had hoped for -- as well as bringing to light possible misuse of funds at an institution that had frequently complained that it little to no cash to spare for improving its educational programs.
  • Unshelved has it crossed with a joke about rumours spreading faster than theoretically possible here.
  • Twitter shadowban[2] of Scott Adams - this didn't much to harm him, but contributed to Twitter censorship becoming widely infamous, which ultimately didn't end well for Twitter's reputation and stock.
    • Twitter shadowban of Brian Niemeier increased the number of his followers on Twitter by 6% and attracted more interest outside it.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In-Universe: The South Park episode "Cartmanland", where Cartman buys an amusement park for the sole purpose of keeping people out and having it all to himself. He might have gotten away with it - if he hadn't aired commercials extolling the park and then stating no one could come. The commercials drew people's attention to the park, and rising expenses (like security to keep them out!) forced him to have to let more and more people in, turning the park from a financial failure to a success - not that Cartman cared...
  1. We don't name her here, out of a perverted sense of mercy, but the curious reader will find plenty of Google hooks below
  2. making posts invisible in many contexts