The Streisand Effect and Other Parables


The Streisand Effect is one of the corollaries of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Photographer Kenneth Adelman created a publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project. Adelman’s purpose was to attempt to persuade state and county zoning officials to limit coastal development. One of Adelman’s 12,000 aerial photographs included Barbra Streisand’s mansion. Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project, which was intended to influence government policymakers.

Image 3850 Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, www.californiacoastline.org.

Image 3850 Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, http://www.californiacoastline.org.

Streisand sued Adelman for $10 million, claiming violation of her privacy, and sought an injunction to force Adelman to take the photo down.

Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month. Streisand’s lawsuit had exactly the opposite effect she wanted; her privacy was exponentially diminished as a result of her effort. Oh, and she lost the lawsuit, too.

Streisand’s failure was so public and so emphatic that the principle is now named after her: the Streisand Effect.

All of this comes to mind because the Intertubes may have a new kind of corollary of the Law of Unintended Consequences: to Delauter. It means to engage in ignorant bullying that explodes in the bully’s face.

As many of you may already know, Kirby Delauter is an obscure city council member in Frederick, Virginia. And a teabagger. He told a reporter for the Frederick News-Post that if she used his name in an article about the city council without Delauter’s permission he’d sue her and the newspaper. In response, the newspaper published an hysterically funny editorial that used Delauter’s name in every way possible – including spelling it out with the first letters of each paragraph in the editorial. Serious props to the newspaper; it was precisely the right response. The story and the editorial went viral, and Delauter’s buffoonish bullying became internationally infamous.1

It’s a wonderful example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, but it isn’t exactly the Streisand Effect. What gave the Delauter story legs was the unfathomable ignorance of Kirby Delauter. To Delauter is to trigger an unintended consequence while revealing yourself to be a complete ignoramus. It’s the Streisand Effect plus near-terminal foot-in-mouth disease.

The Delauter Effect. To Delauter. Remember, you read it here first.

 


  1. He issued a lame apology later. Too late, too late, too late. 
Advertisements