Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Culture Lesson: The Streisand Effect

Named for, and inspired by, superstar Barbara Streisand, the Streisand Effect is what happens to jerks when they throw a fit over fair publication, demand removal, and find a hearty backlash on the Internet.

Streisand's inspiring uproar was over the 2003 publication of her California home. (Streisand, an intensely private woman, felt that her privacy had been violated.) Streisand's home was one of thousands. She sued photographer Kenneth Adelman, and Web site Pictopia, for $50 million.

The combined result of curiosity and generic outrage resulted in a swift distribution of the photograph. Streisand's case was dismissed. Oops?

The Internet is picky and sensitive, and doesn't like to be told what to do. Today, such retaliation is common in the no-holds-barred digital world. Here are some examples, including the one that inspired this post:

  • Nikki Catsouras died in a horrific car accident in 2006. Two California Highway Patrol officers photographed the scene and e-mailed the photographs, which were soon posted on various Web sites. Naturally, the family fought the state, and the Internet, motivated by grief and the fear that Catsouras' three sisters would stumble on the photographs. The state offered a weak apology, but did not side with the family. This is the one example (I can think of) where I don't side with the Internet. DO. NOT. SEARCH. FOR. THESE. PHOTOS. (You'll wish you didn't.)

  • In 2008, the Church of Scientology demanded the deletion and removal of a video of a manic Tom Cruise discussing Scientology. This did not go well. Gawker posted the video and refused to remove the video after receiving a cease and desist letter. Many Web sites—including news organizations—posted the full video. The Church of Scientology was not successful in its petition to remove the video.

  • Ralph Lauren threatened Web sites Boing Boing and Photoshop Disasters this week with cease and desist letters following fair comment and criticism regarding a gruesomely Photoshopped advertisement. (See Resources for rebuttal, advertisement, and additional information.) Photoshop Disasters' original posting has been removed, following Blogger's policy, but Boing Boing's post has not—instead, Internet hero Cory Doctorow addressed the issue with a scathing post, and at post date, the Internet has agreed and taken to sharing the advertisement blogoshperewide.

Oh, Internet! How I love you so, you buncha troublemakers and vigilantes. (When you're not destroying a family.)

Additional Resources:
Wikipedia article
Streisand Suing Over Environmentalist's Aerial Shots Of Her Home, Tech Dirt (2003)
Photo Of Streisand Home Becomes An Internet Hit, Tech Dirt (2003)
The Streisand Effect, Forbes (2007)
A Tragedy That Won't Fade Away, Newsweek (2009)
Ralph Lauren: We Are Determined To Outdo The Gap, Photoshop Disasters, cached (2009)
Ralph Lauren's Ridiculous Photoshop; More Ridiculous Rage, Jezebel (2009)
Ralph Lauren opens new store in Uncanny Valley, Boing Boing (2009)
The criticism that Ralph Lauren doesn't want you to see!, Boing Boing (2009)

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