In 2002 as part of the California Coastal Records Project to document and study erosion, photographer Kenneth Adelman took thousands of aerial photos of the California coastline. One of the photos, shown above, captured Barbra Streisand’s Malibu mansion. Babs found out about it and in 2003 sued to have the image removed (and claimed $50 million of damages). Prior to this suit, the image had been downloaded six times (two of which were by her attorneys). After the suit was picked up by the media the image of her house was downloaded 420,000 times in the ensuing month alone! To make matters worse, Streisand’s suit was dismissed by the court.
This is an example of a common phenomenon where attempts to keep something secret leads to the spread of the item attempted to be hidden. It has been dubbed the “Streisand Effect.” Here are some other great examples of the Streisand Effect:
Glenn Beck is a radio talk show host who has a reputation for asking questions without any basis. As a response to this proclivity, an anonymous website was created with the following URL: GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com
While the website was making some rounds on the internet, it didn’t go viral and become featureed in a wildly popular YouTube video until Mr. Beck’s lawyers filed a takedown notice with the World Intellectual Property Office.
Beyonce performed at halftime of the 2013 Super Bowl. Evidently, there were some photos published by Buzzfeed where Beyonce was captured with less than flattering facial expressions. Here’s one of them:
No big deal. She was performing – working hard to entertain all of us. Beyonce’s publicists sent a letter to Buzzfeed asking them to take down the photos. Buzzfeed didn’t comply – instead, it published the request. The internet responded by going absolutely bonkers and creating memes from the various unflattering photos like the one above.
The French CIA
Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI), France’s spy agency, didn’t like the details provided in an article on Wikipedia concerning a French radio base. The DCRI sent a letter to Wikimedia demanding the page be taken down. Wikimedia refused claiming lack of information about why the page needed to be taken down. The DCRI summoned a Wikimedia volunteer to its offices and strong-armed him him delete the article. Wikimedia was not pleased with the heavy-handed response by the spy agency and published this press release.
The story quickly spread around the world. Here’s coverage by The Economist:
“It is hard to imagine that many people are gripped by the intricacies of French military communications. Had the DRCI simply kept quiet, then the offending article would probably have languished in perpetual obscurity. Instead, the restored article became the most-viewed page on the French version of Wikipedia and was also translated into other languages. And the whole affair ended up being covered in English-language news sources as well.”