Exactly 10 years ago today, the internet finally gave a name to one of its favourite phenomenons, the Streisand Effect — what happens when you try to censor something and the internet loses its collective shit, dumping even more attention on it. And what a glorious decade it’s been.
The term was first used in 2005 in a Techdirt article commenting on the Toronto airport’s attempt to invoke trademark law, which resulted in a whole slew of negative press. The term itself, however, refers to that time back in 2003 when photos of Barbra Streisand’s home briefly became an internet sensation after she initially tried to suppress the photos. Of course, if Barbra hadn’t made such a fuss, no one would have cared in the first place. Thus, the Streisand Effect is that special thing that happens when illegitimate attempts at censorship and good, old fashioned trolling join together to make magic.
Here are the most incredible instances of the phenomenon in action over the past 10 years. Think of any we missed? Let us know down below.
The Anshe Chung Interview
The incident: Back in 2006 and back when Second Life was still *a thing*, online entrepreneur Anshe Chung agreed to an interview with CNET in Second Life’s virtual turf. Unfortunately for Chung and fortunately for absolutely everyone else, some trolls over on Something Awful decided to bombard her interview with giant, flying penises, as was the style at the time.
The aftermath: Chung was less than pleased with her surprise guest, and she and her husband contacted YouTube (among several other outlets) with a takedown notice. YouTube casually obliged, and the internet raged. A rage they channelled into ensuring that Chung’s flying penis incident would live in even more iterations for as long as the internet survives.
Tom Cruise Scientology Video
The incident: In 2008, Scientology indoctrination videos featuring Tom Cruise being extra particularly insane started making their way around a few quieter corners of the internet. Then, the Scientology powers that be came down from their elevated Thetan levels to slap the drugged-up lemmings of the internet with copyright infringement; almost all the sites obeyed.
The aftermath: As soon as other sites started removing the ranting, dead-eyed Tom Cruise from their back catalogue, our sister site Gawker decided to host its own copy of the video. And that’s when things really started taking off. In the video’s own words, “That is why the story of Tom Cruise, Scientologist, has only just begun.”
Did Glen Beck Rape and Murder a Young Girl?
The incident: As a way of calling attention to Glenn Beck’s own sensational, over-the-top, and often accusatory style, a website subtly named Did Glenn Beck Rape And Murder A Young Girl In 1990 appeared at the similarly cryptic URL GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com. On September 1, 2009, the website reached the top of both Digg and Reddit, while “Glenn Beck murder” quickly became Google’s number one suggestion for “Glenn Beck”. Glenn Beck did not like what the internet was doing to Glenn Beck.
The aftermath: Almost immediately, Beck’s lawyers contacted the site, threatening a defamation suit if it wasn’t taken down immediately. It was not taken down immediately. Undeterred, Beck’s team hit up World Intellectual Property Organisation to complain about the use of Beck’s name and were, once again, thoroughly denied; parody in a non-commercial use is perfectly legitimate. And this is when the YouTube videos started showing up.
God bless America.
Chubby Checker Penis App
The incident: Once upon a time, there was a webOS app named Chubby Checker that wanted nothing more than to measure the size of your erect penis. Unfortunately, a particular rock legend just so happened to have the very same, dick-inspector-esque name. Chubby Checker (the man) was not amused by the coincidence.
The aftermath: Chubby Checker’s lawyer sued HP for defamation, claiming that they didn’t manage to remove the offending trouser-snake-calculating app quite quick enough, resulting in it “adversely affecting Chubby Checker’s brand and value.” And once that happened, people started actually hearing about Chubby Checker (the app) for the very first time. And then they would continue to hear about it for the entire year Chubby Checker and HP were dealing with the resulting lawsuit. Whoops.
Beyonce’s Unflattering Photos
The incident: After Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime appearance in 2013, Beyonce’s publicist had an itty bitty request for Buzzfeed, saying “As discussed, there are some unflattering photos on your current feed that we are respectfully asking you to change. I am certain you will be able to find some better photos.”
The aftermath: Instead of politely abiding and removing every last trace of the incredible and incredibly lucrative photos, Buzzfeed of course posted the email. And reposted those very same unflattering pics once more.The internet proceeded to lose its collective shit, turning the photos into a categorically fantastic meme.
Ultimately proving that, sometimes, if you’re very good and truly do believe, the internet can be a force for good after all.