10 Times The Streisand Effect Backfired On Celebs

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

So you haven't heard of the "Streisand Effect?" Well, it's not what happens to your stress levels when someone starts blasting "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" (Just kidding, Barbra. Love ya, mean it.)

The Streisand Effect is a term for the phenomenon that occurs when a person or company goes out of their way to suppress or censor information, and major backlash ensues. Usually what ends up happening is that the precious information gains much wider notoriety as a result of the cover up efforts. Got it? Let's consider 10 celebrity cases where the Streisand Effect went into full...effect.

Barbra Streisand

We'd be remiss not to start with the original, Barbra Streisand herself, and the incident which ultimately led blogger Mike Masnick to coin the term the Streisand Effect in a 2005 post on Techdirt

Mental Floss reports that in 2003, Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for a whopping $50 million "for distributing aerial pictures of her mansion in Malibu." Adelman was a member of the California Coastal Record Project (CCRP), an organization that keeps a photo archive of (you guessed it) the California Coast. The singer was angered by the fact that photos of her cliff-side mansion would be available to the public, and argued that the images were an invasion of her privacy. Let's keep in mind, however, that according to Mental Floss, prior to the law suit, "the picture in question had been accessed a whopping total of six times—twice by Streisand's lawyers."

International news coverage of the story picked up, and internet backlash to what was perceived as a pretty petty lawsuit on Babs' part was swift. As The Economist pointed out, "As the links proliferated, thousands of people saw the pictures of Ms Streisand's house—far more than would otherwise ever have bothered to browse through the CCRP's archives." There you have it: the Streisand Effect in its purest form.

As if that indignity wasn't enough, according to Mental Floss, Streisand was also ordered to pay Adelman's legal fees: a whopping (to us!) $155,567.04.


In what's probably the second most infamous incident of the Streisand effect at work, an attempt at censoring some unflattering images went on to inspire an infamous meme

In February 2013, Buzzfeed posted a laudatory piece on Beyonce killing it during her Super Bowl halftime show. Replete with gifs and photo stills from the performance, the piece provoked a takedown notice from Beyonce's publicist, saying "As discussed, there are some unflattering photos on your current feed that we are respectfully asking you to change. I am certain you will be able to find some better photos."

As soon as Buzzfeed made the email from Beyonce's team public, both it and the photos went viral, likely receiving way more views and internet airtime than they would have had someone not interfered. 

Because of the whole brouhaha, the story is still getting play in 2017

Mitch McConnell

In February 2017, during a Democrat-led protest on the Senate floor against then-nominee for attorney general Jeff Sessions, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell discovered that the Streisand Effect can make itself felt in the political world too. 

As Wired reported at the time, Senator Elizabeth Warren started to read a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife Coretta Scott King, which had been written in 1986 "to oppose Sessions' then-nomination to a federal judgeship." McConnell and his fellow Republic Senators swiftly shut Warren down, an action that unleashed a Twitter firestorm, with #LetLizSpeak going viral. 

McConnell's response that "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted," drew even further attention to Warren's original message, and the quote took on a life of its own on social media too. In the wake of McConnell's censoring of Warren, Coretta Scott King's original letter was widely circulated, and Mic reported that, just one day after the incident, "more than 4.7 million people had watched Warren's live event, in which she read the letter."

Pippa Middleton

You'd think that Pippa Middleton, sister of future-Queen of England Kate Middleton, would have more to worry about than a gently teasing Twitter account. 

However, in 2013, it was reported that Middleton's team had taken legal action again @Pippatips, a parody account that poked fun at the advice Pippa dispensed in her book Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Family and Friends

After the duo behind the account published a parody book, The Sunday Times reported that Pippa's lawyer's had "written to the book's publishers and demanded that the @Pippatips Twitter account be deleted." The immediate result of this censorship attempt? In true Streisand Effect fashion, some negative press for Pippa, and ever more attention for @Pippatips.

But "she persisted," and @Pippatips lives on, with the cheeky disclaimer that it's "Clearly a parody. This Twitter account is not endorsed by Pippa Middleton, or authorised by Pippa Middleton and it's definitely not written by Pippa Middleton." 

Tom Cruise

It's no secret that actor Tom Cruise is one of the Church of Scientology's most cherished and famous members, so it came as a bit of a shock when, in January 2008, the Church went to great lengths to see that a video of Cruise expounding on Scientology be banished from the internet. According to the BBC, the church filed a "copyright claim in an effort to get the videos removed."

The BBC elaborated that the Church's main complaint was that the circulating video was a "pirated and edited" version of an acceptance speech Cruise had made in 2004 after receiving a "freedom medal" from the International Association of Scientologists..." Yeah, never mind the weird black turtleneck and overly-intense stare. Totally normal.

Either way, there's no denying that after the stink the Church's legal team caused, the video got way more views and notoriety as people rushed to see what all the fuss was about. The Streisand Effect came correct, yet again.

Chubby Checker

Singer Chubby Checker made his name in the 1950s with his hit song "The Twist," launching a global dance craze. In the 2000s, he gained instant internet notoriety when he took legal action against Hewlett Packard over an, ahem, member-measuring app called (you guessed it) "The Chubby Checker."

According to Entertainment Weekly, in February 2013 Checker filed a $5 million trademark infringement lawsuit against the company that owned and operated the app, claiming it caused irreparable damage and harm. According to the New York Daily News, "The lawsuit demands that HP stop selling anything resembling the singer or his trademark."  

The suit was settled in July 2014, but in the meantime the app (which the New York Daily News reported was only downloaded 84 times before it was pulled in September 2012) gained a ridiculous amount of publicity thanks to Checker's efforts to control his image.

Celine Dion

For a brief moment in time, the internet offered the sweet, sweet pleasures of the "Ridiculous Pictures of Celine Dion" Tumblr page. It sells itself!

But the fun was over once the Canadian singer and her legal team caught wind of the site. In July 2011, followers of the page were heartbroken to discover a note from its creator in place of their beloved images, stating that "céline dion found our blog, and she didn't like it. we just got a letter from céline's lawyers that the blog has to be shut down. though this blog is well within the realm of 'fair use', i don't have the money or time to get a lawyer to respond. the dream is over."

Of course, in true Streisand Effect style, Celine and her team's attempts to stifle the proliferation of "Ridiculous Pictures" of her was ultimately unsuccessful, thanks to all the ensuing publicity and a little site called Google

LeBron James

Basketball star LeBron James' spot as one of the world's most well-known and well-respected players is in little dispute, but that didn't stop him from engaging in some suspiciously Streisand-y behavior back in July 2009. 

ESPN reported that during a pick-up game at the LeBron James Skills Academy (a yearly training gcame hosted by James), a sophomore at Xavier high school named Jordan Crawford dunked on the 6' 8" star. In response, Yahoo Sports wrote at the time, James immediately had "Nike officials confiscate the two videos that were taken of the dunk."

Even though this was pre-Streisand gate, as Yahoo Sports noted, "by censoring the tape, LeBron turns the dunk into a legend." And of course, it made its debut on YouTube, where it has lived in infamy ever since.

Sean Penn

Over the years, a number of less-than-savory stories about violent behavior have followed actor Sean Penn around. 

These were brought to light yet again when, as Deadline reported in October 2015, Penn filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against director Lee Daniels for comments that Daniels had made defending Empire Star Terrence Howard, who Daniels felt had been unfairly maligned in the press over accusations of domestic abuse. As The New York Times reported, Daniels said during an interview that Howard "ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn,"... pointing out what he believed was race-based criticism of the "Empire" star."

Penn's response was to take swift legal action against Daniels, though the suit was ultimately dropped in May 2016, with Daniels issuing a public apology and making a donation to Penn's J/P HRO organization. 

However, as The National newspaper opined in September 2015, an unintended "effect" of the whole defamation lawsuit debacle was that Penn's alleged shady history with women, especially his ex-wife Madonna (who contributed a statement in defense of her ex-husband in the 2015 suit), became fodder for the ever-hungry entertainment news media yet again.

Axl Rose

If there's one thing we've learned from all these tales of the Streisand Effect at play, it's that you really can't fight a meme. Unfortunately, Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose had to learn that lesson the hard way when he issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) request to Google in June 2016 to remove all memes containing several unflattering photos of him.

The photos in question had been originally taken in 2010 by a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. As The Hamilton Spectator explains, "The photos caught the attention of Gauntlet, a heavy metal news site that republished the photos under a very different headline: "OMFG Axl Rose is fat." Thus was born the mean-spirited "Fat Axl" internet meme.

The situation was complicated by the fact that it wasn't clear who actually owned the copyright to the image, and Rose's take-down was ultimately unsuccessful. As we could have readily predicted by now, the Streisand Effect kicked in and Rose's attempt to censor the image ultimately led to further proliferation, especially as the press reported on the whole mess.

As a Slate blogger wrote in a post about the whole incident, "The lesson here for all prominent human beings seems to be this: Do not try to censor internet trolls. It will only end badly for you."