Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Streisand Effect

Foolishness knows no Party. Mitt Romney made a post-modern mistake this week that's named for a liberal Hollywood icon.

The Washington Post wrote a story last week about Romney's old firm Bain Capital and its track record of investing in firms that specialized in outsourcing American jobs. The article could have been defused by bit by an on the record rebuttal.

But not only did the Romney campaign refused to cooperate, after the story was published they demanded a retraction, which the paper rightly refused.

Sort of makes you want to read it now, doesn't it?

In the Internet era, this is what we call the Streisand effect: "an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely." The effect is, indeed, named for the one whose voice is like buttah.

In 2003, the California Coastal Records Project published 12,000 photos of the coastline as part of an erosion study. Rather than accept a relatively equal and anonymous place in an obscure website, Barbra Streidand got all verklemmpt and sued the nosy environmentalists for $50 million for "invading her privacy.".

The result?

"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."

The default mindset on the Internet is "information ought to be free," which is 1) why record stores went out of business and 2) why nine years after the fact I still feel the need to post the picture of Barbra Streisand's house.

Hollywood celebrity leads to some detachment from reality, so it's not shocking that someone like Streisand may not have foreseen the outcome. But politics at the major league level has no room for such detachment. Romney's effort to kill the story is an interesting character insight into the mindset of a CEO who's used to controlling every situation, something presidents don't get to do.

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