The Streisand Effect

Author: Cody J., Inflow Software Engineer

The Streisand Effect is a term coined by Mike Masnick from the blog site Techdirt. It describes the fact that, when attempting to hush up something on the Internet, the worst thing you can do is file a lawsuit, or otherwise attempt to suppress the information. Something that might have been seen by a small number of people and been relevant only a few days is, with the lawsuit, more likely to become a big news article with thousands of people knowing about it. So, rather than letting the whole thing just blow over, getting legal involved makes the matter much more interesting and noticeable to the public.

This is relevant because when a “media crises” arises, some companies attempt to suppress the information to protect their market value or otherwise to do damage control. By getting heavy handed, a small issue that might have gone away in three days is now a major news story and will probably be talked about for weeks. In addition, the original audience might have been tens or hundreds of people but now, with the new coverage, thousands of people will know about it.

This is most frequently seen with intellectual property issues, primarily copyright. Frequently, companies will attempt to suppress information by filing copyright infringement lawsuits, which only causes the copyrighted material to be seen by more people. However, there are many times when the information being suppressed isn’t actually covered by copyright, or at least the aggrieved company doesn’t hold the copyright, which only makes the situation worse.

This is most important for companies in terms of information security because it only sheds more light on their security failures if they attempt to kill the messenger or otherwise hide security problems. Even if security failures are pointed out online, it makes more sense to fix those problems and announce it rather than attempting to make the original posts go away, especially if false or inaccurate legal measures are used.

Companies obviously need to be aware of their public image, but rather than making things worse by calling in the lawyers, sometimes it makes more sense to take a step back, take a deep breath, then consider the problem in a rational manner and move forward. Sometimes the first reaction to a problem is the worst one to make, and there are rarely any situations where a company has to make a decision immediately. It’s entirely possible that just waiting a few days will clear the air and make the problem, i.e. the original report, go away. However, the underlying issue still needs to be addressed, but that can be considered in a more objective manner during that time.

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