The Streisand effect is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, following a 2003 incident in which her attempts to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity.
One of the phenomena on the social Web which I highlight in discussions about how the social Web defies traditional legal paradigms is the Streisand Effect. It is a fascinating dynamic which occurs from time to time online. This evening I read a post on a local blog, shaunoakes.com, where this phenomenon is currently recurring. The post is titled “Marine Taxis And The Bizarre Way They Deal With Consumers” and is a follow up, in a fashion, to a 2008 blog post titled “Marine Taxis“.
The original, 2008, post was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about Oakes’ experience with a Marine Taxis driver after a night out. The post published earlier today includes an email conversation between Oakes and Marine Taxis’ representative, Ursula Brown, who appears to be Marine Taxis’ public relations and/or marketing person. Brown appears to have emailed Oakes to express her concerns about his 2008 post and insisted that he remove his post. Oakes replied, making reference to his “advertisement” of Marine Taxis’ services and asked why he should remove the post. The conversation deteriorated from there and culminated in today’s post both setting out the email conversation between Oakes and Brown and Oakes dismissing the demand that he take the 2008 post down.
This developing story is a fascinating reputation management and expression case study. On the one hand there is a blogger publishing a story about his experiences with a service provider (a common type of blog post) and on the other hand you have feedback from the service provider which is not terribly constructive. Already there is scope for this to become an informative case study on the underlying dynamics of the social Web and how to (or not to) respond to customer feedback in such a public and connected forum. What makes this story even more interesting is the basis of the service provider’s complaint – a post roughly 2 years old. In Web terms that is practically an eternity.
What I found interesting is what a Google search on “Marine Taxis” reveals:
Notice the 7th result? I don’t know how often Google’s database is updated but I do have to wonder how much traffic Oakes’ post has attracted in the last 2 years and whether his post has been on the front page of Google’s search results all this time? What does appear to be a little clearer is the sudden surge in interest in Marine Taxis, largely due to Oakes’ post (I did contribute a little by retweeting a tweet with the link to Oakes’ post):
Pundits talking about this post will likely comment on two aspects. The first is the poor manner in which Brown addressed Oakes’ somewhat negative experience of her company’s service, albeit it 2 years ago. She could have approached the issue more constructively given that it was important enough to raise this issue so long after the original publication date and seemingly due to concerns about the post’s reputational impact on Marine Taxis. The second aspect of the story is the fact that she took issue with the post so long after it was published and when it could well have been largely forgotten by anyone who read it in the first place or who may be interested in learning more about the company (that said, if this story has been coming up in the first few search results for searches conducted on the company’s name, it may well be as current now as it was back in 2008).
What is clear is how Brown has stirred up even more interest in Oakes’ original experience and in a questionable approach to it on Brown’s part. Regardless of the legalities involved, Brown’s approach to the 2008 post and Oakes’ reaction have probably had the opposite effect to what may have been Brown’s intended result. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this story picked up on Twitter and other social sites and Marine Taxis criticized for its approach to this issue. The result could be reputational harm which could have been avoided had Brown either not taken issue with the 2008 post in the first place or had taken a more constructive approach with Oakes. Just as there are a number of examples of the Streisand Effect in action, there are a number of examples of how a constructive approach to issues like this have lead to very positive feedback and a reputational and public relations coup for the company which was initially criticized.
This story could take on a legal component should Marine Taxis pursue its demand for Oakes to remove his posts but that is probably not the best approach in the circumstances.