“The Streisand effect” occurs when an attempt to contain carticular information has the opposite effect, and helps promote it instead. This “effect” is named for Barbra Streisand, and her failed lawsuit against a photographer who took an aerial picture of her home. The Streisand effect can certainly originate from offline sources, but the infamy spreads like wildfire over the internet.

We feel the Streisand Effect should be a cautionary fable to anyone who finds themselves facing potentially damaging or negative information online. We frequently see high-profile individuals or entities making Streisand Effect mistakes in the media, and your brand doesn’t have to be the next one. If you are facing negative digital content, it’s crucial to address it right away, and in the right way.

The best way to avoid the Streisand Effect is to resist aggressive responses. If there’s even a remote possibility that your response could make you look like a bully, then you should try a different tactic. Click To Tweet

Origins of the Phrase

Mike Masnick, the founder of TechDirt, coined the the term “Streisand effect” in 2005. He’d been writing about a resort that was requesting that their urinals not be featured on the website urinal.net. Masnick stated:

“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.”

Masnick was referencing Streisand’s failed lawsuit against photographer Kenneth Adelman. While he was working with the California Coastal Records Project, Adelman had been was documenting the erosion of the coastline using aerial photography.

The picture of Streisand’s home ended up being posted on Pictopia.com, and she claimed that the photo was an invasion of privacy. She then filed a lawsuit to have it removed. Now, before she filed the suit, that image had only been downloaded six times. As the publicity surrounding the lawsuit grew, however, the photo was viewed over half a million times. Making her bad situation worse? Streisand lost her lawsuit, and now that infamous photo is prominently featured on the wikipedia page for “streisand effect,” and, we’re including it as the featured image in this article. Her attempts to contain the photo actually made it get more visibility than it ever would have.

Why the Streisand effect happens

Not all attempts to contain information result in the streisand effect, however. We typically only observe the Streisand Effect in these two scenarios:

  1. When suppression seems unfair
    • In the Streisand example, the concept that it appropriate for a rich celebrity is entitled to sue someone just for posting a photo of her home seems fundamentally unjust to many people. As soon as most folks learned of the lawsuit, they had to see the picture for themselves.
  2. When the information is scandalous or entertaining
    • In the resort urinal scenario it was more about the entertainment value than anything else. First off, creating a website devoted entirely to pictures of urinals is asinine, then, the thought that a resort is concerned enough about the site to have take-down orders issues is downright comical. Oftentimes, in cases like this, people want to see the photos just to see what the fuss is about.

Do’s and don’ts: two contrasting examples

If your brand ends up subjected to the Streisand Effect, There are a few do’s and don’ts that we recommend integrating into your response.

These 2 examples illustrate the point.

  1. Ford Motor Company sued a customer forum in 2008 for trademark infringement. This suit angered one of the carmaker’s major customer segments. In a quick and effective response, a social media executive for Ford took to Twitter and initiated a real-time dialogue to quiet the growing furor, which died down quickly.
  2. Spin Magazine initiated legal proceedings in May of 2009 against a Twitter user who had claimed the handle @spin. They stated the user was “cybersquatting” on their magazine name and demanded that he stop using the handle. This lawsuit launched a Twitter revolt, especially since the owner of the handle claimed to have never heard of Spin Magazine and was clearly using the account for personal purposes. As a result, Spin Magazine suffered long-lasting negative effects.

So what did Ford understand about the Streisand Effect that Spin didn’t?

  1. Approach the offending purveyor of information as diplomatically and politely as possible.
  2. Never underestimate America’s compassion for an underdog. In the cases referenced about, including Streisand’s, there is a legitimate David and Goliath rhetoric, and if the public sees you as a giant, picking on the little guy, the you are just about guaranteed to have a viral nightmare on your hands.
  3. The Streisand effect tends to create inertia. Once entrenched online, viral negative content is likely to remain part of the Internet’s permanent landscape.

The dark side of the Streisand effect

Now, not every case of the Streisand Effect means that a brand or company did something bad. Unfortunately in a lot of situations, the individuals just get caught up in juicy bit of gossip that creates some intense online interest.In many cases, individuals get caught in the crosshairs of a juicy story that generates intense online interest.

Think about how many famous people have had their personal social media or other accounts hacked and their private and sometimes sensitive information made public. The actual hacks themselves are illegal and a violation of the individual’s privacy. While we agree that is logical for the hacked persons to want the private content removed from the web, the publicity that process stirs up, may make the removal problems worse.

We often encounter another scenario similar to this one, in which someone was reporting a wrongful arrest, but then there is no reporting on the exoneration. People are arrested sometimes that have not committed a crime, and regrettably, arrests sell more newspapers than releases. Often innocent individuals search their names and find only the arrest reports, and nothing of the positive resolution. Though, when these individuals attempt to contain that negative publicity, the increased attention to the article brings it higher on the public’s radar.

How to prevent the Streisand effect from harming your reputation

Honestly, the best way to avoid the Streisand Effect is to resist aggressive approaches when you are confronted with negative online information. If there’s even a remote possibility that your response could make you look like a bully, then you should try a different tactic.

Focusing on more indirect means of containment can be a good next step. If the host of the content is not likely to empathize with you, then you are probably better off avoiding the situation all together. Best advice? Keep it close to the vest, don’t blab about it on social media, don’t visit the website, and don’t complain to to others about the horrible thing that happened to you. .

The most effective strategy is to buy the negative piece of content under a bunch of positive content. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, depending on the specifics of the issue you are dealing with.

If you’re dealing with personal information disclosures or problems related to negative online reviews, we can help! We have experience dealing with these problems, and can help devise and implement a plan to get you through. Contact us today, to learn how we can help improve your brand’s reputation online.