There is a lot of information out there on the internet – mostly informative, plenty not, and then there’s the information about you that you’d prefer if no one saw. In an attempt to hide, remove or censor this information you contact the website, write letters or involve lawyers. But instead of censoring that information, your actions attract public attention and the information becomes more widely available than it was prior to your intervention. This phenomenon is known as The Streisand Effect.
The Streisand Effect is a term coined by Mike Masnick, creator of technology blog Techdirt, and named after Barbara Streisand after her attempt in 2003 to suppress images of her Malibu home - which she claimed invaded her privacy. Instead of successfully, and discretely, suppressing those images Streisand in fact generated more publicity. The images probably would have gone unnoticed had Streisand not attempted to remove or censor them.
Since the coining of the term we have seen countless attempts at removal or censorship backfire. A notable example is that of Beyoncé’s 2013 lively and vigorous Super Bowl performance. After the performance, Buzzfeed (an entertainment website) published pictures showing Beyoncé’s “fiercest moments” of the performance. Beyoncé’s team contacted the website asking that the unflattering pictures be removed. Not only did the website not remove the pictures but published a further article titled “The Unflattering Photos Beyoncé’s Publicist Doesn’t Want You To See”. This generated an extraordinary amount of interest in the pictures and, as a result, many memes were born.
The Streisand Effect does not just come from media attention but from viral videos, discussion on blogs and, as in Beyoncé’s case, the development of countless memes.
It’s unfortunate that when there is something about you on the internet that you want removed, the process of removing it can often be difficult or, as we’ve seen, have the opposite effect and far more people become aware of it and you become the butt of many jokes.
In some situations a lawyer may be able to assist you in removing the offending picture or information without creating too much publicity or public interest. But the appropriate action to be taken would be assessed on a case by case basis and would largely depend on what the information is you are trying to censor and where it is located.