Reading about George Allen’s “macaca” problem and how small-time online news sunk his (admittedly already poor) political aspirations brings to mind the power of the internet as a scandal-spreader. It’s a double-edged sword – as fake scandals like Pizzagate can demonstrate – but it’s important to keep in mind the power of the internet as a largely uncensorable tool of information – whether you’re George Allen or Barbara Streisand.
In 2003, Barbara Streisand had pictures of her luxurious seaside Malibu estate leak onto the internet. The story likely would have ended there, with the photos drifting off into obscurity and the few people interested at the time likely forgetting shortly thereafter. Instead, she attempted to suppress those photos.
News of the attempts spread from the few who actually cared about her photos, to those who cared about celebrities but were unaware of the photos, to those who were tuned into internet goings-on but were uninterested in celebrities. Plastering the photos across the internet became a sort of resistance – a fight against censorship, regardless of how petty and questionable it was.
The Streisand Effect has branched into more significant world matters, such as rebelling against the Tunisian Government’s internet censorship and Scientology’s embarrassing Tom Cruise videos. The latter even led to an underground internet-based movement to oust Scientology and expose its numerous amoral practices. Each of these organizations attempted to shut out something that the rest of the world would have turned a blind eye to, had the effort of hiding it not made it clear how important they felt it was.
This does present a threat to private citizens and the innocent – witch-hunts can erupt over poorly-sourced articles. However, the power of the internet’s permanence means uncensorable accountability for those in power. Regardless of whether it’s encryption keys, racial slurs, or seaside mansions, the harder you try to hide it, the faster and further it will proliferate.