As many of you would have read, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) ordered Internet Service Licensees to block 73 URLs carrying content that were critical of the Indian Institute of Planning & Management (IIPM). The blocked pages included those from The Wall Street Journal, The Caravan Magazine, The Indian Express, The Economic Times, Outlook Magazine, The Times of India and FirstPost. The DoT order to block followed a Gwalior court order.
I find the court order and the subsequent DoT action to be ludicrous; after all, anyone, especially in a so-called democratic society, has the right to criticize anybody or any institution.
However, this piece is not about why the court and DoT acted the way they did. It is also NOT about the merits or demerits of IIPM. It is about the phenomenon called the Streisand Effect.
The Streisand Effect is the phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely, especially on the Internet. It is named after Barbara Streisand, the famous American actress and singer, who – in 2003 – tried to suppress photographs of her residence. Instead of succeeding in her endeavour, Streisand’s actions generated even further publicity.
According to Wikipedia “Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman maintained that he had photographed beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-sanctioned and government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.”
Professor Arindam Chaudhuri and IIPM find themselves caught in the Streisand effect. In trying to protect IIPM from posts critical of the good man and his institution, the DoT order has actually created unexpected interest in the story and the negative aspects of the business school. I am sure that Professor Chaudhuri did not expect the outraged outpouring of the netizens.