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TWTS: Dear Internet, please remove this article about the Streisand effect

Our fellow word nerds at Merriam Webster are watching the phrase "the Streisand effect." At least one of our listeners is watching it too, and alerted us to the verb "to Streisand" which appeared in a TechDirt.com article last June.

The article discusses the case of a private prison company that wanted a lawyer to stop tweeting about a lawsuit in which it's currently embroiled. From TechDirt.com: "Of course, all this has actually done is Streisand all this information that CoreCivic doesn’t want you to see about how it runs the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center.:

The "Streisand effect" goes back to an incident in 2003, when singer Barbara Streisand sued a photographer who was trying to document erosion on the southern coast of California. The photographer took an aerial photo that included Streisand's house and put it online. Streisand sued to have the photo removed.

Did you search for that photo just now or make a mental note to track it down later? If so, you're demonstrating the "Streisand effect." Merriam Webster explains it well:

"Prior to the suit, only a handful of people had seen the photo (of Streisand's house), but once news of the suit broke, hundreds of thousands of people sought it out online, and the photo suddenly proliferated in forums and on sites. Streisand and her lawyers had inadvertently brought attention to the picture they wanted removed."

They may as well have said, "Everyone! Please check out this amazing photo of Barbara Streisand's amazing beach house!"

The phrase "Streisand effect" was coined in a 2005 article on TechDirt.com. Writer Mike Masnick wrote about a resort that sued over a photo of one of its urinals. The resort didn't want the photo attached to its name and wanted it taken down.

You can guess what happened next. As Masnick put it:

"How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don't like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let's call it the Streisand Effect."

Masnick's term caught on, and examples can be found in various publications including The Globe, Forbes, The New York Times, etc. As Merriam Webster notes, the phrase got a lot of use in 2018, when news outlets were covering the Trump Administration's decision to shorten the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. Following that decision, enrollment in the system skyrocketed.

In addition to the "Streisand effect," we now have the verb "to Streisand," as our listener noted. As of yet, neither have appeared in standard dictionaries. If dictionary inclusion is your goal for these terms, you might consider telling the internet to stop using them.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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