When Damage Control Goes Poorly
Two modern examples of the Streisand Effect on social media from April 2023
Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst
A journey through modern manifestations of the Streisand Effect
In April 2023, two modern examples of the Streisand Effect on social media emerged when attempts to suppress information resulted in its widespread dissemination. The Streisand Effect is a phenomenon where efforts to hide or censor information often backfire, leading to unintended consequences and usually a larger than intended audience. Social listening tools are a perfect example to analyze this phenomenon, as they can quantify trends over time and show how censorship can spectacularly backfire.
We rely on two contemporary examples from the last few weeks to show this in action. First, we tell the story of Afroman's most recent music video, which was the subject of a lawsuit by the Adams County Sheriff's Office, resulting in a 900% increase in post volume on social media. In the second example, the Tennessee State House expelled two Democratic Representatives for advocating stricter gun control measures, which resulted in a 15,000% post volume associated with the expelled representatives. We used Infegy Atlas to analyze these two examples.
The Streisand Effect: a definition
The Streisand Effect is a fascinating phenomenon where efforts to suppress or hide information often have the opposite effect, resulting in the news becoming even more widely disseminated. This phenomenon is named after an incident in which Barbara Streisand tried to suppress photographs of her Malibu home taken by two reporters in 2003. Before her lawsuit, the pictures had only been downloaded six times. However, after news of the suit spread, the images became widely publicized and were downloaded over 420,000 times. This case is a perfect example of how attempts to hide information or censor it can often lead to greater interest, greater exposure, and unintended consequences.
Example 1: Afroman and the Adams County Sheriff's Office
Summary of events
On August 21, 2022, the Adams County Sheriff's Office conducted a raid at the residence of Afroman, a rapper based in Ohio. Suspicions of drug possession and kidnapping prompted the search, but law enforcement found no evidence Afroman committed a crime. Afroman later released a video in December 2022 that included footage from the raid taken by the surveillance cameras at his home. Initially, the video generated little interest or attention.
However, when the Adams County Sheriff's Office filed a lawsuit against Afroman for invasion of privacy, the media began to report on the story, causing a significant increase in post volume. This was the Streisand Effect in action, where the Adams County Sheriff's Office's attempts to retaliate against Afroman's video had the unintended consequence of drawing exponentially more attention to it. In this case, the Adams County Sheriff's Office's attempt to suppress Afroman's music video through the lawsuit resulted in a 900% growth in post volume on social media, as Twitter users ridiculed the Sheriff's Office for their actions.
Greater song exposure for Afroman’s song
Aside from monitoring the post volume, we also wanted to measure how often Afroman's YouTube link was shared on social media platforms like Twitter. To enable this, we incorporated link tracking, an Infegy Atlas feature we launched last year that counts how often a specific URL is shared across social media. We found social media users shared the music video twice as often as they did when the video was initially released. Here is a clear indication that the Adams County Sheriff's office's attempt to suppress the footage only backfired, resulting in a greater spread of Afroman's message. The Streisand Effect was once again at play, proving that attempts to censor or suppress content on the internet can often lead to greater attention and dissemination.
Emotional analysis of Afroman-related content
To understand the emotional impact of the lawsuit on social media users, we used Infegy's Emotions to analyze Afroman-affiliated posts within a one-year window. We found that after the Adams County Sheriff's Office filed a lawsuit against Afroman, there was a significant increase in Disgust, which rose by 60%. This surge in Disgust was followed by a 35% increase in Anger in the subsequent days. The Disgust and later Anger came from the general public and was directed predominantly at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. These negative emotions were quite different from those associated with Afroman-related content, usually including Anticipation, Trust, and Love. This surge in negativity was an outlier and demonstrated the emotional impact of the lawsuit on social media users. Equally interesting was the total lack of reactions to the August police raid or the December song release. This suggests the case provoked fans' reactions, not the events that preceded it.
Afroman wins, while the Adams County Sheriff's Office loses
In analyzing the reputations of Afroman and the Adams County Sheriff's Office, we found that Afroman emerged from the events unscathed. Despite having his home raided by a SWAT team, almost all Afroman-related hashtags were positive, except for one negative #news tag related to the raid.
However, when we looked at the Topics discussed in Afroman-related posts, they were overwhelmingly negative and focused heavily on the Ohio police department. The only positive topic was Afroman's album and song. This indicates that while Afroman's reputation remained intact, the Adams County Sheriff's Office faced significant negative attention and criticism from the public.
Example 2: Tennessee State House expels Democrats
Summary of events
In a second example of the Streisand Effect, we'll look to Tennessee in March and April 2023. In the wake of a horrific shooting at Nashville's Covenant School on March 27, 2023, Democratic Representatives Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson, and Gloria Johnson advocated stricter gun control measures. Yet, despite their efforts, the Republican-controlled government had prioritized school security and rejected proposals for tighter gun laws. Most controversially, the GOP-controlled House voted to expel Jones and Pearson, both people of color. The GOP-controlled House controversially spared Johnson, which provoked allegations of racism.
The GOP-led expulsion drew national attention to the issue of gun control in Tennessee and elevated the profile of the two lawmakers, thanks in part to the Streisand Effect. By attempting to silence Jones and Pearson, the Tennessee Republican party has inadvertently given the young men’s cause a larger platform than it might have had otherwise. The aftermath of the expulsion got over twenty times the post volume of the removal itself. The Streisand Effect has once again demonstrated that attempts to suppress information or ideas often backfire and can serve to amplify them instead.
An emotional analysis
Next, we looked at a more granular emotional analysis of the conversation surrounding the Tennessee State House from March 27, 2023 through April 10, 2023. Following the Covenant school shooting on March 27, 2023, anticipation grew as news of an upcoming protest the next day began to circulate. However, things remained relatively muted until April 4, when there was a 50% rise in Anger upon hearing that the GOP-led legislature voted to expel both Representatives Jones and Pearson, who had been advocating for stricter gun control measures.
This controversial decision by the government drew widespread criticism and sparked a surge in post volume on social media, reflecting the Streisand Effect. However, on April 6, trust rose as the Nashville Metropolitan Council reinstated Jones and the Shelby County Commission reinstated Pearson.
Tennessee Democrats win while Tennessee GOP loses
In examining the aftermath of the expulsion of Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, we sought to determine which political party emerged in a more powerful position. We analyzed hashtags associated with the Tennessee State House from March 27, 2023, through April 10, 2023. We colored them by sentiment with red, meaning they were related to negative conversations, and green, meaning they were associated with positive discussions. We found that the hashtags #justinpearson and #justinjones were frequently mentioned positively by Democrats, while hashtags like #tennesseefascists or #tennesseetaliban were used in a negative light. This suggests that Pearson and Jones emerged with their reputations intact.
On the other hand, the Republican Party appeared to be on the defensive, with fewer posts and a less positive sentiment associated with their hashtags. Overall, our analysis suggests that the Democratic Party may have gained an advantage in the aftermath of the expulsion, thanks in part to the Streisand Effect, which helped to amplify their message and mobilize their supporters.
Conducting defensive public relations campaigns at your own risk
In conclusion, the Streisand Effect is a phenomenon that can lead to unintended information proliferation when attempts to suppress or hide information backfire. In April 2023, two modern examples of the Streisand Effect on social media emerged, including the Adams County Sheriff's Office lawsuit against Afroman and the Tennessee State House's expulsion of two Democratic Representatives for advocating stricter gun control measures. Through Infegy Atlas, we analyzed these two examples and found that attempts to censor or suppress people or content on the internet can often lead to greater attention and dissemination. These two examples serve as a cautionary tale for individuals and organizations who attempt to defend themselves or punish adversaries too aggressively.