Trivia

Hard

The Phenomenon Wherein Trying To Hide Information Makes It More Public Is Known As?

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Sherlocking
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The Streisand Effect
A 2002 photo of Barbra Streisand's Estate in Malibu, California.
Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman (California Coastal Records Project)/Wikimedia

Answer: The Streisand Effect

Back in 2002, photographer Kenneth Adelman undertook a massive project wherein he photographed the California coastline in a series of 12,000 photographs. The purpose of the exercise was to document coastal erosion for the California Coastal Records Project, a government-sanctioned project focused on preserving the state’s massive coastline.

In the process, Adelman happened to, just by circumstance, photograph the palatial Malibu mansion of one very famous singer, Barbra Streisand. In 2003, when it came to the singer’s attention that her home was displayed on the CCRP’s website, her lawyers drafted a lawsuit and sued the photographer, the site displaying the images (Pictopia.com), and even the server company hosting the actual files (Layer42). The total damages sought were for $50,000,000.

Before the lawsuit, nobody (aside from perhaps some die hard fans) really had any idea about the photo of the house. After the lawsuit, the story was all over the news and shortly after the story broke, nearly half a million people went to the CCRP website for the express purpose of looking at her house. The frivolous lawsuit ended up drawing exponentially more attention to the home than simply ignoring the photograph would have.

Two years later in 2005, Mike Masnick, CEO and founder of the Techdirt blog, immortalized the whole affair when he wrote:

How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let’s call it the Streisand Effect.

The greatest irony here is that not only did Streisand fail to keep her house under wraps, but she permanently linked her name to the futile attempt to do so.

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