Dear Internet, please remove this article on the Streisand effect

Our word-loving colleagues at Merriam Webster take a look at the phrase “the Streisand effect.” At least one of our listeners is watching it too, and alerted us to the verb “to Streisand” that appeared in a TechDirt.com article last June.

The article discusses the case of a private prison society who wanted a lawyer to stop tweeting about a lawsuit they are currently involved in. From TechDirt.com: “Of course, all this actually did is Streisand all this information that CoreCivic doesn’t want you to see about how it’s running the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center.”

The “Streisand Effect” dates back to an incident in 2003, when singer Barbara Streisand sued a photographer who was trying to document erosion on the Southern California coast. The photographer took an aerial photo that included Streisand’s house and posted it online. Streisand sued to have the photo taken down.

Did you look for this photo earlier or did you make a mental note to find it later? If so, you demonstrate the “Streisand effect”. Merriam Webster explains it well:

“Before the lawsuit, only a handful of people had seen the photo (of Streisand’s house), but once news of the lawsuit broke, hundreds of thousands of people searched for it online, and the photo suddenly proliferated in forums and on websites. Streisand and his lawyers had inadvertently drawn attention to the photo they wanted taken down.”

They might as well have said, “Everyone! Please check out this great photo of Barbara Streisand’s amazing beach house!”

The phrase “Streisand effect” was coined in a 2005 article on TechDirt.com. Writer Mike Masnick wrote about a resort that sued a photo of one of its urinals. The station did not want the photo attached to her name and wanted it removed.

You can guess what happened next. As Masnick said:

“How long will it be before lawyers realize that just trying to suppress something they don’t like online is likely to result in something most people wouldn’t see ever (like a photo of a urinal at a random resort) is now seen by a lot more people?Let’s call it the Streisand effect.

Masnick’s term has caught on and examples can be found in various publications including The globe, Forbes, The New York Times, etc. As Merriam Webster notes, the phrase was used a lot in 2018, when news outlets were covering the Trump administration’s decision to shorten the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. Following this decision, registrations in the system exploded.

In addition to the “Streisand effect”, we now have the verb “to Streisand”, as noted by our listener. So far, neither has appeared in standard dictionaries. If including these terms in the dictionary is your goal, you might consider telling the Internet to stop using them.

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