Be Careful Of The Streisand Effect While Fixing Your Online Image

Brook Zimmatore | May 8, 2015

In 1998, Mario Costeja Gonzalez was forced to sell his property due to social security debts. The sale of this property was reported by the government on its website. In November 2009, Costeja discovered that the newspaper announcement was posted on the newspaper’s website. He asked the newspaper to remove his data, arguing that it had been many years since the forced sale and it was no longer something relevant to his daily life. When the newspaper refused, he contacted Google Spain to ask them to remove the links. Eventually, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that EU citizens have a “right to be forgotten”, and that Google must allow people to erase links to information that pertains to EU citizens when those citizens request it.

Costeja’s original listing was on a relatively small website, and it probably wouldn’t have ever been noticed outside of the local area or people who might search for him by name. But because of this court case and the subsequent highly publicized ruling, Costeja’s name is now known throughout the Internet not as a person fighting for the rights of EU citizens, but as a man who didn’t pay his social security debts.

Costeja’s results are a clear example of a principle known as the Streisand Effect. Like Costeja, Barbara Streisand filed a court case in an attempt to suppress information, and like Costeja, the subsequent lawsuit garnered more publicity than the original information. In Streisand’s case, photographer Kenneth Adelman photographed beachfront property in an effort to document coastal erosion. Streisand’s property was labeled “Image 3850” and was downloaded only six times. Streisand filed a lawsuit to suppress the images of her personal home. As a result, more than 420,000 people downloaded Image 3850 in the next month. Twelve years later, images of Streisand’s Malibu home are readily available online for all to see.

The Streisand Effect says that in some cases, an attempt to suppress information will cause that information to be more widely publicized. Understanding the Streisand Effect is critical to understanding how your reputation management plan can effectively utilize suppression, and when to avoid suppression of information.

In November 2012, a woman had written a negative review on Yelp of a local moving company. The Boston company sued her for libel. When the woman’s husband wrote a blog post about the situation, the news was picked up by Techdirt, The Consumerist, and Reddit. In less than a week, the Better Business Bureau revoked the company’s accreditation.

In December 2013, a Samsung Galaxy user had requested that Samsung honor its warranty after the battery spontaneously caught fire. Samsung demanded proof, so the owner uploaded a video of the battery catching fire to YouTube. Samsung agreed to honor its warranty, but only on the condition that the user remove the YouTube video, waive his right to a lawsuit, and keep everything under wraps. The YouTube user shared the settlement proposal, and that video attracted more than 1.2 million views in less than a week.

There are times when it can be useful to suppress information, particularly when that information is libelous or defamatory to your company. But companies and individuals must be mindful of the Streisand Effect, understanding that in many cases, an attempt to suppress information will draw additional publicity to the very information that you’re attempting to suppress. The decision to file a lawsuit to suppress information is not to be taken lightly, as disgruntled customers and former employees can and often do take to the Internet to spread their story further when an attempt at suppression is made.

Massive’s reputation management services are designed for economical image protection on the web. Our team will focus on your company’s image from a consumer’s view, and help you avoid actions/decisions that can cause more harm than good. Additionally, you would be able to utilize our mitigation options to end hate speech and control your media image.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.