Before the Internet, some people out there in the world probably celebrated the “Streisand effect” as that special charm “the Queen of all Divas” brings to her music and films. In 2003, however, the term got a new meaning, when the famous singer and actress tried to sue a photographer for publishing photos of her house. She was trying to protect her privacy, but instead she exploded the public's interest in her home, driving Internet users to look up the “forbidden” images. The Streisand effect is the comedy of unintended public interest, and it's as alive in Russia today as it was in California 12 years ago.
RuNet Echo recalls four of the most prominent times the Streisand effect hit the Russian-language Internet, when banned articles, shut-down websites, and pirated movies exploded online not unlike Streisand's Malibu mansion in 2003.
The Village and Business-Youth
The best way to promote is to prohibit, and sometimes all it takes is signaling the intention to ban something. Threats are no laughing matter in Russia, either. Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin's media watchdog agency, has demonstrated repeatedly that its warnings should be taken seriously.
When the Moscow-based website The Village received a letter earlier this month, saying it must delete an article titled, “The Sect of Success: How Business-Youth Makes Millions of Dollars in Emotions,” several leading Russian media outlets immediately urged their audiences to read the text as quickly as they could, while it was still available. If The Village refused to obey the government order, the warning said, the entire website could be blocked.
The warning from Roskomnadzor turned out to be fake. But whoever faked it certainly achieved their goal: the article in question has now been viewed more than 200,000 times.
The Russian gangsta rap group Krovostok (“Blood Groove”) won a moment of fame last month, after a Yaroslavl court decided to label some of its songs illegal and ban their circulation in Russia. The court particularly didn't like that the group's lyrics “form personal traits like cynicism, permissiveness, and false values.” The effect was inevitable: even those who don't usually listen to this kind of music became interested. The forbidden fruit, after all, is the sweetest.
“Впервые на территории Российской Федерации тексты группы признаны незаконными. Не экстремистскими, <…> а именно незаконными. Это, безусловно, нас радует. Если наши песни действительно вне закона — то это алмаз на рынке, если говорить с иронией”.
“It's the first time within the territory of the Russian Federation when texts of a music band are declared illegal. Not extremist, […] but illegal,” said the group's producer, Dmitry Fain. “That certainly makes us happy. If our songs are really beyond the law, it's market gold, ironically speaking.”
The situation with Andrei Zvyagintsev's film, Leviathan, is not technically a case of “Streisand effect,” as nothing was banned or prohibited. There was a component of illegality, however, insofar as a pirated copy of the movie leaked onto the Internet a month before its theatrical release in Russia, granting the film a certain buzz that accumulated 4 million viewers by the time it hit the cinema. The movie was also heavily discussed both in the press and on social networks, in no small part because of its illicit availability.
Watching Leviathan online also turned out to be the only way to see it unedited, without its obscene language edited out for mass distribution in Russian movie theaters.
Before being frozen as a “monument to itself” by its founder, Lurkmore, a popular RuNet meme encyclopedia, was a target of frequent government censorship. (Read more about this at RuNet Echo here.) In 2012, Lurkmore even caved to pressure by Roskomnadzor, agreeing to block Russians’ access to a series of articles, in order to be removed from the Internet blacklist. Instead of damaging Lurkmore, the scandal led to a spike in traffic to the site (close to 4 million visitors on the day of the controversy).
According to Lurkmore‘s definition, the “Streisand effect” is an “effect of explosive content distribution on the Internet, when there are rumors concerning the prohibition or restriction of this distribution […] If something is forbidden, it's definitely significant.”
In most cases, the explosion of interest is provoked unintentionally. As the example of The Village shows, however, some people have even learned to trigger the public's interest in that which is “forbidden,” by faking the Streisand effect. In any case, the latent energy of millions of Internet users is always waiting to be unleashed.