Who would have expected a singer and actress in her seventies (not exactly a digital native) to coin a popular new online term: the Streisand Effect? This expression, suggested by Nora Neko and Kaesse is used to describe the unintended consequences or boomerang effect (whichever you prefer) of taking legal proceedings against someone over something they have put online on a website or blog.
The term originated with a lawsuit the singer Barbra Streisand filed in 2003 against a website that had published a photo of her house on the internet. The website posted a defence online to the effect that while it had photographed the singer’s house it did so in a good cause, to show the erosion of the California coastline. It attracted much online support for its position, with the result that the photo, which would otherwise have gone practically unnoticed, was viewed more than 500 000 times after the lawsuit was filed. This was the first recorded instance of the boomerang effect of an attempt to censor online content.
Put another way, the remedy (the lawsuit) did much more harm than the original wrongful act (a photo seen by only a handful of people). Since that case, other examples of the Streisand Effect on the internet have come thick and fast and there has even been a website set up to illustrate the phenomenon: http://www.thestreisandeffect.com/.
Examples referred to on that website include Ralph Lauren, who sued an American website in 2009 for criticising one of his advertising campaigns. His attempt at censorship created so much buzz that he had to apologise on television, as the story had spread to the traditional media. Tiger Woods also found out to his cost about the Streisand Effect, when his attempt to prevent the media from publishing any nude photos they might have of him triggered a whole media campaign.
With time, the expression has taken on a broader meaning. It is now used to mean any boomerang effect of an act of censorship, on or offline. Like Tiger Woods, you might trigger a debate by asking a newspaper to withdraw a compromising photo. And the Streisand Effect is not the exclusive preserve of celebrities or big brand names, anyone can fall victim to it. For example, an association of chiropractors sued a doctor who had criticised a statement they had put out for bordering on untruth. A group of bloggers took up the issue and generated a buzz that severely undermined the association’s credibility.