Two recent This is True stories demonstrate the “Streisand effect,” and this page brings those two stories together (plus a third from 5 years ago), and then leads to more commentary on the “effect.”
Let’s start with the first of the two recent stories, from True’s 8 December 2019 issue:
Don’t Have a Cow, Congressman
“It is self-evident that cows are domesticated livestock animals and do not have the intelligence, language, or opposable digits needed to operate a Twitter account.” The lawyer who told the Henrico County, Va., Circuit Court that was trying to quash a subpoena an attorney for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued for records concerning the Twitter accounts “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom.” The accounts are satirical, the lawyer argued, and, contrary to Nunes’s claim, their posts are not defamatory. “No reasonable person would believe that Devin Nunes’ cow actually has a Twitter account, or that the hyperbole, satire and cow-related jokes it posts are serious facts.” The lawyer urged the court to protect the anonymous speech of whatever human beings are tweeting as the congressman’s cow and mother. (AC/Sacramento Bee) …But would a reasonable person believe that a Congressman actually thinks calling attention to a Twitter account he doesn’t like is a good idea?
Which Leads to the Follow-up in this week’s (28 June 2020) issue:
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is still trying to sue over two satirical Twitter accounts, “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom”. Judge John Marshall of the Virginia Circuit Court, which is where the congressman’s suit was filed, has ruled that Twitter — the deepest pockets in the case — cannot be liable under federal law. The March 2019 suit claims the Twittered taunts “almost” cost him re-election, and asked for $250 million in damages. At the time, “Devin Nunes’ Cow” had just 1,000 followers. With the news coverage of the case, it now has more than 741,000 followers. (RC/Washington Post) …If this keeps up, whoever is behind @DevinCow may win the next election.
Not a New Phenomenon
The first mention of the so-called Streisand effect in True was in the 23 August 2015 newsletter, which is included here for completeness:
The United Kingdom is enforcing a 2014 E.U. law allowing “the right to be forgotten” — the right of people to demand online search engines delete links to stories about themselves if the stories embarrass them. When the law was first invoked, news sites published articles about it; they had been alerted because Google notifies the sites affected. Now, people are upset that links to those news stories are keeping their names in the limelight. Thus, the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office ordered Google to remove the links to the articles about the removals, too. Because Google notifies the sites affected, now there are articles about removing links to articles about removed links. (RC/Wall Street Journal) …You don’t have to be as famous as Barbra Streisand to suffer from the Streisand Effect.
The authors of the three stories are indicated by their initials in the (Source) area: “AC” is contributor Alexander Cohen, and “RC” is me, This is True founder and publisher Randy Cassingham.
Alexander’s tagline was clearly foresighted, even if predictable by the Streisand effect. In that name-founding legal battle, Streisand sued for a mere $50 million for “invasion of privacy” over an aerial photo of her beachside home.
Before Streisand’s suit was filed, the photograph in question, which was taken to document coastal erosion by the California Coastal Records Project and known there as “Image 3850”, had been downloaded only six times — and two of those were by Streisand’s attorney.
Yet in the month following the suit’s filing, it was downloaded more than 420,000 times — and that was in 2003, when the Internet was still a struggling adolescent. The lawsuit was not only tossed out with prejudice, the judge granted photographer Kenneth Adelman $155,567 to pay for his legal defense. Of course, the suit also brought huge attention to Adelman’s web site, and boosted awareness of his warnings over coastal erosion.
Techdirt writer Mike Masnick coined the term in 2005, discussing a very different example of the phenomenon, and 10 years later joke-threatened to sue because people were using the term without paying him royalties.
That Was Then, This is Now
These days, the subject of such lawsuits put up a GoFundMe campaign to create a legal defense fund pay for lawyers …which helps generate “news value,” which brings even more attention to the case at hand, which brings new “eyeballs” to their work, which brings more attention to their Legal Defense Fund, etc. — or, as I slugged my 2015 story, an “Infinite Loop”.
Which brings us to the Twitter accounts Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mother. The latter was shut down by Twitter once the news coverage pointed it out, because the account did not made it clear that “@DevinNunesMom” was a parody account. It was quickly replaced by Devin Nunes’ Alt-Mom, which did make it clear (with the “Alt” tag).
So you might guess what happened this weekend with news that Twitter was dropped from the suit, leaving only individuals: a new GoFundMe campaign was launched to pay for the two Twitter-users’ defense lawyers. The fund broke $30,000 …in the first 24 hours, and into six figures after that.
I’ve always said the Internet brought the “power of the press” to anyone with enough savvy to use it. Cases like this prove it. And I’m sure the ultra-conservative Rep. Nunes just loves that his case is considered a supreme example of an “effect” named for a notably liberal celebrity …who lost her case and failed her intent big time!
Important Comments Note
Comments must be about the topic discussed to be approved. Comments that argue for or against Devin Nunes (or any other politician or political topic) will not be approved, so save your fingers if that’s your inclination.
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