The Streisand effect refers to the adverse reaction generated from trying to conceal data from publicity whereby more attention is drawn to the information rather than repressing it.
It was coined by Mike Masnick following the suit filed by Barbara Streisand to have photographs of her house removed from the internet. Prior to the suit, the photographs had only been downloaded six times but once the suit was filed, visits to the site increased to 420,000.
The Unintended Consequences of Attempts to Suppress Publicity
Suppressing publicity often draws attention to the object of that aim, especially where the subject relates to a public figure or a well known business. The human mind is curious and there is a perceived notion of trying to hide something detrimental in these circumstances which invites the inquisitive.
Any activity to suppress information can act as a trigger to alert and encourage people to scrutinise that information more than ever. For publishers, it is a positive feedback loop particularly if the individual is popularly known or it is related to a successful business. Nobody wants to read uninteresting news and few can resist the allure of potential scandal.
The Truth Will Out
If an individual or business has genuine reasons for trying to prevent information making its way into the public domain, serious though must be given to the best approach. Certain types of information may qualify as confidential and pre-publication it may be possible to get injunctions to prevent such information from being released but this necessitates fast action.
The first consideration in trying to restrict other types of information should be the risk of potential consequences. It should be borne in mind that where the risk is to reputation and the information itself is true, there may be little that can be done to prevent it from entering the public domain.
At present, there are no privacy laws in the UK, therefore, the line between freedom of expression and invasion of privacy remains unclear even for those with deep pockets and astute lawyers. Certain legal protections can be found in the Articles 10 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights but to date, no injunction has been granted for the removal of any sensitive information through these mechanisms.
If the information is true and current and relates to well known individuals or businesses, it is likely to be newsworthy and hard to prevent from publication. Furthermore, where limited publication has already taken place, any legal action is only likely to add fuel to the fire.
Effective risk assessment and evaluation is required for individuals and businesses to avoid the Streisand effect. Where information may be more embarrassing that there being serious damage involved, the information may be best ignored and its publication tolerated as a normal occurrence. Where there is a likelihood of damage to reputation, greater consideration may be required.
Any recourse to litigation will need to take into account both the legal risks involved and the publicity considerations.