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'Streisand Effect' Snags Effort to Hide Documents

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'Streisand Effect' Snags Effort to Hide Documents

Digital Life

'Streisand Effect' Snags Effort to Hide Documents

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, a phrase to help you build your 21st century vocabulary: the Streisand Effect. Maybe, you knew about it already, but if not, think people who don't want people to know things and end up being among the most unhappy people in the world.

We were reading about a Swiss bank, Bank Julius Baer, that was upset about documents leaked to the Web site, Wikileakes.org. The bank asked a federal judge to shut down the Web site and the judge obliged, which of course, made the case compelling reading not just for people concerned about allegations of money laundering in the Cayman Islands, but also people concerned about free speech on the Internet.

Arguably, more people sought and found the documents after the Web site was shut down than before. Well, Mike Masnick, CEO of Techdirt Inc., is responsible for naming this phenomenon, and he joins us now from Stanford, California.

Mr. Masnick, why the Streisand Effect?

Mr. MIKE MASNICK (CEO, Techdirt Inc.): Well, it all came about based on the - a situation that happened with Barbra Streisand where someone had been photographing the entire West Coast of the United States from a helicopter for ecological reasons. And one of those photos happened to be of Barbra Streisand's house along the coast, somewhere in Southern California. Of course, no one actually recognized that it really was her house among the thousands and thousands of photos. Until, she decided to sue him for $50 million dollars for showing her house online.

And so, once that happened, once she sued him, suddenly that photo got a tremendous amount of interest. The Web site that was hosting it got bombarded with hits, and then a bunch of other sites picked it up, and new sources - The Associated Press - printed the photo as well, getting that photo that she'd hoped to get removed much, much, much more attention.

SIEGEL: And I am your witness here, that in preparation for this interview, for journalistic purposes only, I found both the photograph of Barbra Streisand's house and also some documents leaked about the Swiss bank in question. The lesson here is, if you want lots of people to see something, just try to suppress it.

Mr. MASNICK: Exactly. And in fact, I believe there are some folks that are now using the Streisand Effect for that very purpose, to get attention specifically for stuff they supposedly want banned.

SIEGEL: I read about a Kentucky company that was trying to market - was it an alcohol inhaler?

Mr. MASNICK: Yes. That's another great example. Where they were trying to sell an alcohol inhaler and found that people actually weren't interested. People tend to want to drink alcohol as opposed to inhale it, apparently. But they somehow convinced a Kentucky legislator, I guess, that this was a horrible thing that needed to be banned. And so, he put forth legislation to ban it. And suddenly, that alcohol inhaler got a ton of attention and sales went up as well.

SIEGEL: This is sort of like marketing Newsweek by putting a brown paper wrapper around the cover one day and hoping that sales will go up on the assumption that there's something really wrong in there?

Mr. MASNICK: Exactly. And the more attention it gets for being something that you can't see or can't use, the more interested people are in seeing what it's all about.

SIEGEL: Well, is it just a new take on rubber-necking? Is that what the phenomenon is?

Mr. MASNICK: In some ways, it is. But I think it's really sort of changed thanks to the Internet, right? Rubber-necking - you're just watching a car accident. But people feel that their rights are being taken away when someone's trying to, say, bully someone into suppressing information that they think should be out there.

SIEGEL: Is this, by the way, your only coinage that you're responsible for -the Streisand Effect? Or are there others you want to share with us?

Mr. MASNICK: Realistically, at this point, that's the only one that's really caught on. I haven't really attempted too much. Don't want to overshoot.

SIEGEL: Well, in a few years we'll call back for Masnick's law.

Mr. MASNICK: Yeah. I'll work on that one.

SIEGEL: That's Mike Masnick, who is the CEO of Techdirt, Inc. and responsible for naming the Streisand Effect.

And today, the judge who shot down Wikileaks reversed himself citing First Amendment concerns.

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