The Streisand Effect: How It Can Damage Your Online Reputation


  • The Streisand Effect refers to an attempt to suppress information online that ends up making the information more popular.
  • The Streisand Effect got its name after celebrity Barbra Streisand tried to cover up an unfavorable story revolving around her beachfront residence, but instead managed to blow up a relatively unknown photo into a scandalous national news story.
  • Resisting the temptation to act rashly or litigiously against images, articles, or videos online can make a huge difference down the line when it comes to your reputation.

Maintaining a good reputation is vital for companies and the executives that serve them. Now more than ever, consumers are researching the companies and vendors they do business with. It’s not uncommon for customers to insist on supporting businesses that positively impact the environment, stand up for important social issues, and are overall ethical in their business practices. 

But what happens when a company or high-level executive is dealing with an unfavorable event from the past? Whether it is a comment taken out of context or a serious mistake, it may affect the future of the business.

This article will discuss the following:

  • The Streisand Effect
  • Why the wrong approach to reputation management can ultimately backfire
  • How to protect your online reputation.

What is the Streisand Effect?

The Streisand Effect refers to the celebrity Barbra Streisand, who, trying to cover up an unfavorable story revolving around her beachfront residence, managed to blow up a relatively unknown photo into a scandalous national news story.

When Kenneth Adelman started work with the California Coastal Records Project, his goal was to take photos of the lavish beachfront mansions in Malibu to document the coastal erosion in the state. Streisand’s house was one of those captured by the aerial photos. Angered by what she claimed was a violation of privacy – but probably also concerned about what the images would do to her reputation as an environmental activist – Streisand immediately called in her legal team.

The results were devastating. What started as a photo of an unidentified house downloaded six times from Adelman’s website blew up into half a million visits to his page within a month! Unfortunately, Streisand’s attempt to suppress images of her mansion backfired and drew even more attention and publicity to the images.

This is a modern-day example of the old Watergate-era saying: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” 

How the Streisand Effect can affect online reputation

Heavy-handed attempts to censor the truth often result in boosting search engine results involving the information you or your company would prefer others not to see. Attempts to cover up information or assets can often lead to unintentionally highlighting those very things to a wider audience if it's found out.

One example of this can be found in the recent Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa. Protestors publicly touted their cryptocurrency accounts through Kraken as a means for supporters to donate anonymously. Supporters were told they could contribute without fear that the government would intercept their money. 

Over 1.1 million dollars were raised, only for the Canadian government to promptly seize their accounts. This story highlights how attempting to cover up your activity or assets can go wrong. It’s also a great lesson on the importance of investing in alternative assets the government can’t seize while keeping all activities legal.

Another example of reputation management gone haywire involves social media giants Twitter and Facebook and the current U.S. president Joe Biden. When an unfavorable new story broke out about the president’s son, both platforms promptly moved to censor it. The goal was to avoid affecting the outcome of the election, which had been an issue in the previous four years after the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica.

Unfortunately, in doing so, the tech companies only managed to draw more focus to the story and undermine their own credibility. “We made a total mistake,” said former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey after the fiasco. This story is a recent example of how trying to cover up an unflattering story can ultimately have the opposite effect.  

How can companies protect their reputation?

reputation protection

Hiring a time-tested, professional online reputation management firm can help guide you when aspects of your past life or unflattering new stories about you or your company are circulating online. Resisting the temptation to act rashly or litigiously can make a huge difference down the line when it comes to your reputation.

A firm that understands the intricacies behind search engine optimization (SEO) and content curation is one key aspect of managing your reputation. Creating new and interesting content about yourself or your brand can help push negative news stories down on the search engine feed, highlighting the positive aspects you prefer customers and clients to focus on. The type of content people see when they Google your name, whether it’s a Wikipedia page or a blog article, can make a big difference in the opinion they form of you.

An online reputation management firm will uncover all legal options for removing unfavorable photos or new stories, including but not limited to cease and desist letters. Negative content can also be managed with DMCA takedowns, a process for copyright owners to get material infringing on their rights moved from external pages. Online reputation management firms may also use content removal techniques to get embarrassing photos or videos taken off the web and wiped off search engine results.

Final thoughts

The world wide web has provided people from around the world with ready access to all kinds of information. However, reputation management has become a lot more complex for companies and their executives. Now more than ever, consumers care about the reputation of the companies they buy from, and all it takes is one negative news story to hurt your bottom line.

Managing your online reputation on your own is risky and can often backfire. Consulting professional reputation managers who can take the burden off your shoulders can make a huge difference in your future, the reputation of your company, as well as your hard-won career.

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