What is the Streisand effect?

What is the Streisand effect?


The Streisand effect, originally, is a media phenomenon. In 2003, artist Barbra Streisand filed a lawsuit to ban the publication of an aerial photograph of her private property on an online photo bank; his efforts to censor the image are made public, arousing the curiosity of several hundred thousand Internet users who consult the snapshot; only 6 people, including the American actress’ lawyers, had viewed the photo before.

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The Streisand effect thus illustrates the sanctity of freedom of expression, in a context where the Internet, and in particular social networks, allow everyone to freely disseminate content. The move to prevent the disclosure or spread of information risks producing the opposite result: the content goes viral. Based on this principle, the company, in a matter of reputation and brand image, has every interest in avoiding the Streisand effect.

Why should the Streisand effect be avoided?

Hiding information can accidentally bring it to light

In accordance with the Streisand effect, the attempt to remove content that is harmful to the image of the company accelerates its spread. While the company’s objective is to conceal information, its approach attracts public attention. 2 reasons explain this phenomenon:

  • The company’s efforts look suspect. From then on, the content seems all the more interesting and the enthusiasm of the public grows.
  • The internet prohibits censorship, which defeats the purpose of social media. Internet users indeed use the web to criticize positively or negatively. When the company violates this right, it is then sanctioned.
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Consequences of the Streisand effect

The harmful consequences of the Streisand effect can be observed at several levels:

  • The attempted takedown reinforces the damaging impact of the content, which goes viral. Its massive distribution reaches a larger audience.
  • The concealment approach highlights the abuse of power, at least the lack of transparency of the company, whose brand image is degraded.
  • The company not only increases the visibility, but also the credibility of the information. This consequence is particularly damaging and perverse when the disputed content is unfounded.

Illustration of a Streisand effect

A former employee makes false allegations about working conditions in a startup, he distributes his publication on social networks in the form of a pamphlet. The startup reacts: in order not to harm its reputation, it sues the author on the basis of defamation, so as to obtain the withdrawal of the article. The author seizes on what turns into a case and denounces the procedure online. By the time justice, if necessary, banned the publication, the content went viral: Internet users copied and distributed the article on many platforms, and encouraged communities to comment and share the content in turn. The start-up is impacted at a global level and in the medium term: doubt remains about the working conditions practiced in the company, and the public associates its image with a scandal. Without procedure, the rumor might have gone unnoticed.

How to avoid the Streisand effect?

No company is beyond reproach, and mistakes along the way are inevitable. Not to mention that the web opens the way to unfounded accusations, on the pretext of freedom of expression. Strategically, it is a question of minimizing the consequences of its failures, proven or alleged, to maintain the confidence of the public and preserve its customers. Avoiding the Streisand effect is an effective plan, which requires setting up a process of anticipation and crisis management: Two key capacities in marketing strategy.

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How to anticipate and manage a crisis?

  1. Monitor social media: the company monitors its online reputation, at 2 levels. The community manager is responsive on the brand’s social networks. An alert is configured to detect any mention of the brand on all online media: social networks, forums or even online review sites.
  2. Identify the first signs of bad publicity: it is a question of evaluating whether the video, image or text content is harmful to the reputation. If necessary, the company measures the virality of the publication using indicators such as the click-through rate, the number of shares or the natural referencing of the site that hosts the content.
  3. Decide on a proportionate response: the company is not rushing to have the content removed, nor to threaten its author with censorship. It is indeed this reaction that causes the Streisand effect. In return for the Internet user’s right to express themselves freely online, the company has a right of reply which it uses correctly.

What are the alternatives to censorship?

To avoid the Streisand effect, the company’s reaction is decisive. It’s about mastering the art of responding to online publication, in order to defuse the risky situation. The response is assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the nature and virality of the content. Illustration: a negative comment following an online purchase is legitimate, and does not justify deleting the content; on the contrary, the company takes the opportunity to show its responsiveness and the attention it pays to customer satisfaction, by publicly and quickly proposing an effective solution. On the other hand, a video recorded with a hidden camera, which denounces dubious manufacturing processes of products in the factory, has a significant impact on the brand image; however, the company cannot request the withdrawal of the video at the risk of finding itself a victim of the Streisand effect. In any case, the company has several alternatives to censorship, depending on the circumstances:

  • If the content is not documented, its author has no proof of his allegations, and the company has nothing to be ashamed of, simply fault the author of the rumor by asking him to support his statements. To show its detachment and prove its perfect good faith, the company can also use the content in derision: the author definitely loses his credibility, no need to request the deletion of the content.
  • If the company does indeed have practices to blame itself for, it nevertheless has an interest in not requesting the removal of the content. When the virality of the content is indeed less, the company can adopt a wait-and-see position and rely on the rapid obsolescence of online publication to quietly limit the consequences of bad publicity.
  • When the content is proven and viral, it remains in the interest of the company to avoid the Streisand effect. Instead of having the publication deleted, the company responds in a press release structured in 3 parts: it acknowledges its failure, it explains the causes, it announces the measures it will take to remedy it. The company thus respects freedom of expression and the right to information, and demonstrates transparency: its brand image is better preserved.
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