A few weeks ago, I wrote about an example of unintended consequences called the cobra effect in which an attempt to reduce the snake population actually increased it. A reader emailed me asking me if I had heard of a similar phenomenon called the Streisand effect. Since I hadn’t, I thought I would share the concept with you:
The Streisand effect refers to an attempt to censor a piece of information which has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. It is named after a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for including an aerial photograph of her Malibu home among the 12,000 photos he took of the California coastline for researchers to use to study erosion. According to the court documents, only 6 people (including Streisand’s attorneys) had downloaded the image before the lawsuit was filed. As a result of the publicity surrounding the lawsuit, an estimated more than one million people viewed the photograph. Streisand’s attempt to keep the photo hidden from people resulted in more people seeing it. And one more thing: Streisand lost the lawsuit and had to pay Adelman’s legal fees.
The Streisand effect underscores much of our celebrity worship culture and the dramatic rise of citizen paparazzi. If people find out that someone is trying to keep information from them, they have increased motivation to uncover it. We are seemingly obsessed about knowing things that others don’t want us to know.
The marketer in me realizes this provides a reverse psychology opportunity: if I want to spread something far and wide, I should pretend it’s a secret.