The Streisand Effect: A phenomenon whereby action undertaken to suppress or deny the dissemination of information directly causes said information to spread further than if no action had have been taken. Named after singer and actress Barbara Streisand, whose attempts in 2003 to legally coerce a photographer and website to withdraw a picture of her mansion from public viewing backfired, resulting in it quickly being shared across the web.
While the internet has provided better tools for this unintended consequence, it is not necessarily a feature of technology. Much as the old idiom ‘don’t think of a black cat’ will probably inspire a greyscale image of a kitty to pop up briefly in your mind’s eye, any effort that is made to prevent information from being passed from one source to another risks attracting attention. Time and again people protest movies or literature out of a wish to censor them from public access, only serving to fan the flames of an audience’s curiosity. The lure of the forbidden fruit, and all that…
Amazon is currently being chided over a certain book on pedophilia. I won’t bother linking to it, or the news stories, in the name of avoiding hypocrisy, but it’s not difficult to find. Ironically, I would have no idea this book existed if not for the waves of protests and abundance of news items on it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Amazon pulled the book under the barrage of complaints, but in the meantime a crappy, self-published piece of nonsense has reached the ears of even more potential buyers. Had it sat quiet and ignored on Amazon’s shelves, it would have gathered dust as most other low-profile vanity press publications do.
Choosing our battles and knowing when to hold our tongues is a difficult thing to do. It’s hard not to succumb to certain socially infused reactions to that which disgust us and point to it while telling people not to look. Similarly, when faced with lunacy or nonsense, we find it hard not to argue with it, contributing further to its dissemination while doing little to suppress its influence. Yet some fights are best won by walking away and attacking it from a more strategic angle.