Ten years ago, Barbra Streisand launched a legal battle to have an image of her California home removed from the internet. Her efforts succeeded only in alerting thousands of people to the existence of the image.
The lesson was that “if you want to hide something from the internet … you’re often better off not stirring the hornet’s nest”, wrote Mike Masnick at his blog TechDirt.
He called it “the Streisand Effect” – a term that has entered the everyday lexicon of web-watchers.
And it applies far more widely than just to popular entertainers.
The most recent example of the Streisand effect is being played out in France, and features a Wikipedia entry that describes a military compound west of Lyon.
The page on the online encyclopedia had been quietly gathering dust until the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur went all a bit Barbra.
The national intelligence agency demanded that Wikimedia France remove the article. When they failed to specify the errors, Wikimedia, who host the site, refused.
The DCRI’s next move was to summon a volunteer Wikipedia administrator into their headquarters and demand he delete the entry, “on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply”, explains Megan Geuss at Ars Technica.
He did comply, but Wikimedia denounced the tactic, and the page was reinstated by others, who pointed out that the article was almost entirely sourced from a “video interview given by the commander of the military compound to a journalist”.
And, before you know it, the page had shot to the most popular on the site, with hundreds of thousands of views.
As New Zealand’s own embattled agencies could no doubt confirm, the last things spies want to be doing is attracting attention to themselves.
See also: ZDNet.