Back in 2003, photographer Kenneth Adelman was taking photos of the California coastline from a helicopter to document coastal erosion. He had taken approximately 12,000 photos of the coast, including one that had Barbra Streisand’s home in it. She wasn’t happy about it and sued Adelman to remove the photo — and she lost.
Prior to the suit, the photo of her home had been viewed six times (including a few times by her lawyers). Since then, it’s been viewed millions of times, and her attempt to suppress it was the cause of the popularity of the photo she was trying to hide.
Techdirt helped dub this kind of situation “The Streisand Effect”, and there have been hundreds of other examples since then.
I was reminded of this when listening to a recent episode of the Reply All podcast, where they dug into the awful TikTok “Devious Lick” trend, where students would steal items from their school (generally things like soap dispensers, but it sometimes got worse).
As “Devious Lick” settled down, a new list of “upcoming TikTok challenges” started making its way around the internet, with one of the most popular coming from the Officer Gomez Facebook page:
This was shared all over Facebook, mostly between parents and administrators, and on the local news. However, it was never really a thing on TikTok, and most kids were unaware of it. The parents and administrators were helping to make the list famous, and at best helped inspire a few incidents rather than prevent them.
Critical Race Theory
It seems to be a similar story with Critical Race Theory. It’s been around for decades, generally used in graduate-level courses, but has become a hot topic over the past year. The specifics of CRT aside, it’s mostly been a circular push by conservatives to “stop” it, but they’re really the only ones talking about (thus creating more buzz that needs to be stopped).
CNN has a good article about the history of CRT, which is a good read to get you up to speed on it if you’re uninformed (as I have been on it). I simply find it interesting that it’s mostly a hyped-up issue, because spurred on by the very people that are trying to fight against it.
In the years since The Streisand Effect was first coined, Techdirt has cataloged hundreds of similar issues where people or companies try to bury something, and the act of burying it only makes things worse. This is the good and the bad of the internet; I often push to help keep things open and uncontrolled online, but it also makes it nearly impossible to stop things like this. That’s generally good, but it’s not something you can fix if you handle your business in the wrong way.
Thankfully the teacher slapping and the CRT discussions aren’t likely to cause any major issues, but they’re good examples of where fighting against a non-existent enemy can make things worse.