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There’s a phenomenon known on the Internet as the “Streisand effect,” which dates to 2003. Singer Barbra Streisand sued, unsuccessfully, to try to keep photos of her beachfront mansion out of a collection of images of the California shore. Streisand sought $50 million in damages for the alleged invasion of privacy. Before she sued, the photos of her house were hidden, fairly anonymously, among about 12,000 pictures in the collection. Afterwards, everyone knew which home was hers. Filing the lawsuit called far more attention to the photos than they would otherwise have received.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder employed a similar PR tactic this year, when he sued the company that owns Washington City Paper the week before the Super Bowl. (He later added staff writer Dave McKenna as a defendant.) Snyder made a bunch of baseless claims about our story, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” before eventually abandoning his court case. But it’s pretty clear in retrospect that what he should have done, if he really didn’t like the piece, was ignore it.
Football is a game of statistics, so let’s look at the traffic. From the day the article went online, Nov. 17, 2010, to Feb. 2, 2011, the day Snyder sued, Google Analytics recorded a total of 77,691 clicks on the story. Since then, the story’s been viewed a total of 485,703 times (through Dec. 26). By suing us, Snyder helped the story get more than six times the views it had before he filed the suit. (This originally said 60 times, not six.)
Snyder may have realized how much attention he brought to the story; he told the New York Times Magazine in an interview published just before he dropped his suit that it was “possibly” a tactical error. Of course, he also said he never read the story—so apparently he didn’t add any pageviews personally to the more than half a million the piece got. Regardless, his legal and PR team fared badly enough in 2011 that it made his football team’s on-field performance look pretty good.
Either way, maybe it’s time to rename the Streisand effect the Snyder effect—after all, in Internet time, 2003 is ancient history.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery/Illustration by Brooke Hatfield