OPINION: New media will always trump the seemingly immovable object of a court injunction
DICTIONARIES ARE busy adding the term “superinjunction”. Not to get too linguistically prescriptive about it, but the definition should read “a legal action in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information only has the consequence of publicising that information more widely”.
Because a lot of our information these days comes via search engines such as Google, there is a simple trick you can use to uncover the names of the “superinjunkies”. Just type a celebrity’s name into the Google search engine and see if the site’s auto complete function throws up the suggestion “superinjunction”. It’s been 100 per cent accurate for me so far.
All these superinjunkies taking out gagging orders on their “genital misplacement” (there’s another new term for the dictionaries) incidents don’t seem to have learned the lesson of the “Streisand effect”, which we have known about since 2003 and which has predicted, almost to the column inch, all the current media coverage of superinjunctions.
The Streisand effect (2003) began when an aerial archivist uploaded 12,700 sequential panoramic pictures of the Californian coastline to a website in order to highlight the degree of coastal erosion and to promote the environmental conservation of a particularly stunning stretch of land.
One of those 12,700 photographs contained an aerial view of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu mansion. Streisand filed a suit claiming that the public availability of that particular photograph “violated her right to be free from offensive intrusions, violated the anti-paparazzi statute, constituted wrongful publication of private facts and misappropriated her name”.
She sought $10 million in damages and a permanent injunction against display or dissemination of the photograph.
The fact that she was unsuccessful in her case is not significant but what is significant is how the dynamic of the media coverage changed once the terms “Barbra Streisand” and “permanent injunction” became public.
In her declaration, Streisand had argued that it was likely that thousands of people would download the photograph. Prior to the lawsuit, however, only six downloads of the photograph were executed and two of those were by her own attorneys.
Just three reprints of the photograph had been ordered – two by Streisand herself and one by a neighbour who was involved in a dispute with the singer/actor.
Once it became known that Streisand was trying to injunct something, 420,000 people visited the website over the following days to have a good gawk at the aerial view of her house and almost every world newspaper featured the story.
I don’t know if Max Clifford and his colleagues in the PR industry lecture their celebrity clients on the “Streisand effect”, but one would think it to be of more import than which charity lunch to be seen at and how to emerge from a car at a film premiere without giving the photographers more than they bargained for.
There's even a Streisand effect website (thestreisandeffect.com – "When trying to block information backfires") which should, apart from Hello!, Ok!and Heatmagazines, be required reading for all those in the business called show. Trying to push information away from the public gaze will only pull even more of that gaze (along with its friends and family) towards that information.
For showbusiness reporters, the days of the “Thirty Mile Zone” – which meant that gossip columnists did not report on any actor’s “genital misplacement” if it took place outside a 30-mile radius of Hollywood – disappeared well before political reporters lifted their self-imposed embargo on JFK’s proclivities.
It’s 24/7 open season on celebrities these days and, with the advent of the legally ambiguous Twitter (which is essentially giving the village postmistress of yore a broadband connection), all the law courts can do is stick their finger in the dyke of the information flowing out there.
Then there’s the “provocation” factor. What we have seen in the all the coverage (social media included) of the superinjunction cases is how the print media gets very riled when its “exclusives” are spiked due to the terms of a court injunction but said story is attracting thousands of viewers when posted on Twitter.
Revenge is taken sardonically, as when the Daily Mailran a story two weeks ago about an interview a certain actor had given to another newspaper. The actor's name had been mentioned on Twitter as one of the people who had taken out a superinjunction.
The Daily Mailinnocently wondered why said actor hadn't mentioned his wife in the interview and pointed out that the actor's devotion to his wife "is so strong it is understood he is known to fellow thespians as the Ryan Giggs of the showbusiness world, after the famously family orientated footballer".
The irresistible force of new media will, as this week has shown us, always trump the seemingly immovable object of a court injunction. Celebrities need to work with, not against, the Streisand effect.
We know from previous case studies that celebrities who do the TV chat show tearful confessional and take the self-penned “My Love Rat Show” tabloid disclosure route facilitate a form of media closure. This way everyone can delight in hating the sin but loving the sinner for telling us all about it.
Breaking news: the “Streisand effect” has now officially been renamed the “Giggs effect”.