What is the Streisand Effect?

News travels fast – especially bad news. It travels even faster when attempts are made to suppress it, however insignificant the initial story actually is. This phenomenon is known as the Streisand Effect, named after the famous singer who fell victim to it.

Why is it called the Streisand Effect?

In 2003, a photographer tasked with documenting coastal erosion published thousands of aerial photos of the California coastline on a public image-sharing platform. One of the images showed Barbra Streisand’s beachfront mansion. The singer sued the photographer for 50 million dollars. She lost her case, but by then the story had spread and the location of her home had become public knowledge. The irony here is that without the lawsuit, the photo would never have attracted so much attention – and thus the “Streisand Effect” was born.

Why we all need to be aware of the Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is nothing new, and those familiar with reverse psychology were aware of the phenomenon long before it became known by this name. However, the effect intensified as more and more people went online. Nowadays, we can all share information more or less where and when we want to, and news – whether good or bad – travels much more quickly. Social media networks are common battlegrounds for this type of issue, and platforms like WikiLeaks provide another outlet.

The Streisand Effect in marketing

The Streisand Effect can have serious implications for companies, and sometimes for individuals too. If a negative report or story is poorly handled or simply swept under the carpet, the brand’s reputation may suffer. Sometimes, all it takes is for one person to make a critical comment on Facebook or Twitter or to reveal something confidential, and all hell breaks loose. And if the company doesn’t take the criticism seriously or attempts to ignore or even delete it, they may well find themselves with a PR nightmare on their hands. To prevent things spiraling and to deal effectively with criticism, brands need to give careful thought to crisis management and reputation management.

Famous examples of the Streisand Effect

Uber’s popularity grew

In June 2014, taxi drivers met on the streets of Central London to demonstrate against Uber, the US transportation company whose app allows passengers to hail a ride and drivers to charge fares and make money. The app was beginning to get more popular in major European cities. The protest was meant to show Uber in a bad light and deter people, but the opposite happened – Uber reported that its app received an 859% increase in downloads compared to the week before. It also received the most sign-ups since it was released in 2012. A classic case of the Streisand Effect.

Lego: bogus bricks on YouTube

Thomas Panke is a German vlogger who regularly publishes videos about building bricks and kits – mainly, of course, those made by Lego. In one of his YouTube videos, he accidentally referred to a competitor product as a Lego product, and Lego demanded that he take down the video in question. Panke complied with the request but published a letter from his lawyer in response. Due to the Streisand Effect, Lego ended up getting a lot of negative publicity, while the other manufacturer profited from the situation.

The defamatory poem about President Erdoğan

In 2016, German satirist and comedian Jan Böhmermann made headlines with his obscene poem about the Turkish president. Earlier that year, Erdoğan had succeeded in having another satirical music video taken down, and he won his case against Böhmermann too – the court ruled that 75% of the poem could no longer be recited. However, the poem was published in its entirety as part of the court ruling and ended up attracting a great deal of interest because of the preceding media coverage and debate.

Nestlé and palm oil

The scandal over Nestlé’s use of palm oil in its KitKat bar dates back to 2010 when Greenpeace published a provocative video in which a man bites into an orangutan finger instead of a chocolate bar. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that the habitats of many animal species were being destroyed in order to produce palm oil. In response to the video, supporters and activists started flooding the KitKat Facebook page with critical comments. Nestlé responded by deleting the comments and threatening users, which of course only made things worse and had repercussions for the entire company – a classic case of the Streisand Effect at work.

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