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What's the Streisand Effect?

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"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." - Internet pioneer John Gilmore

Back in 2003, aerial photographer Kenneth Adelman photographed hundreds of miles of California coastline as part of a government-sanctioned effort to document coastal erosion. Of the 12,000 photographs he took and posted online, one happened to include an opulent cliffside mansion belonging to none other than Barbara Streisand. She sued, citing privacy concerns. Not only was her suit dismissed, but the picture of her home went viral, and suddenly what had been an extremely obscure part of a giant project hidden deep within the Internet was featured on blogs everywhere, ultimately being viewed a half-million times. Thus was coined the "Streisand Effect."

There are lots of examples of the SE in action. A pre-Internet example is banned book month, celebrating and highlighting literature that the powers that be have tried to censor. More recently, the Wikileaks website was the targeted for takedown by government agencies; soon after, people sympathetic to their cause mirrored Wikileaks' site across the world, making it impossible to completely remove. (It's kind of like trying to kill a worm by chopping it in half -- then you've got two worms.)

Here's a crazy one: in 2009, Ted Alvin Klaudt, a former South Dakota state legislator convicted of raping his two foster daughters, attempted to claim that his name was "copyrighted" and demanded it not appear in any news articles. This didn't work, of course, and his ridiculous claim got him lots of new publicity.

A recent and relevant example from world politics: in 2007, Tunisia blocked access to Youtube and DailyMotion after a video of Tunisian political prisoners was posted. Activists and their supporters then started to link videos about civil liberties in general, as well as the exact location of the Tunisian President's palace on Google Earth. The Economist wrote that this "turned a low-key human-rights story into a fashionable global campaign." Another example from an African dictatorship: Anonymous vs. the government of Zimbabwe. After dictator Robert Mugabe's wife Grace sued a newspaper for $15 million for publishing a Wikileaks cable linking her and some cronies to the illegal mining and fencing of blood diamonds, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous attacked government websites, even defacing the Ministry of Finance site to read thusly (see above).

Wow. Streisand in full effect.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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