In this daydream, I am back being a simple country lawyer . . .
A man walks into the office; actually, it would be more accurate to say that he storms in. He is middle aged, maybe a little paunchy, a beard, and glasses. He looks around intently, clearly a man with important affairs on his mind.
“Are you Howe?” he asks brusquely.
I nod. “In the flesh. How can I be of service?”
He sits down a the chair on the opposite side of the desk. “You come highly recommended. I have an employment law matter I would like to discuss with you.”
I hold up my hand and point to the door to the right. “I think you want to talk to Mr. Dewey, one of my law partners. That’s really more of his bailiwick. For all I know, the EEOC is some European bureaucracy. . . ”
He cuts me off, apparently unimpressed by the start of my quite excellent EEOC joke. Perhaps he has no sense of humor. “It has to be you, Mr. Howe. As I say, you come highly recommended by a client who had a little trouble with a certain blogger a ways back. He sends you his regards, by the way.”
I nod. “By all means, then. Please go on.”
He starts talking very quickly. “Well, we had this person who worked for us. And she complained about this guy who works for us about sexual harassment. She said that this guy kept sexually harassing her. Sending her indecent letters. Even sexually assaulting her a couple of times. So we looked into it. And it was, well, how should I put this . . .”
I try to help. “Unfounded?”
He shakes his head. “No. The other thing. Kind of the opposite. The word slips my mind for the moment. Wait, I think . . . no. On the tip of my tongue, you know what I mean? But no matter. We investigated, and as I said . . . or maybe I didn’t say . . . well, we took stern corrective action!”
“You fired the cad, of course,” I nod sagely.
He nods his head. “Yes . . . wait. No. We gave him a couple of weeks off without pay, or something, I am not all that clear on the details. And get this, you will appreciate this as a lawyer: she wasn’t satisfied! Can you believe that? Wasn’t satisfied.”
I finally understood. “Well, it sounds like you may have some major liability potential on your hands, but again, that’s not really my line. I would have just told you to get rid of this guy and make the lady happy. But that’s just me. I’m kind of a stickler in that way. But then again, I don’t know employment law from . . .” I could see from his stern demeanor that the joke I was about to make about my ignorance of employment law (a really funny joke, I might add) would have gone over like a lead balloon. “Like I said,” I continued in my best somber tone, “my law partner Mr. Dewey is in the next room. He’s the one that handles employment discrimination lawsuits.” I pick up the phone to call Dewey’s extension, but the bearded interloper interrupts.
“Not Dewey! You, Mr. Howe. This is not an employment lawsuit! Far from it. In fact, much, much worse. She . . . ” He pauses, as if to regain control over his emotions. “She . . .” he pauses again. Clearly he is having a difficult time. His voice drops to a whisper. “She went public.” He hands me a crumpled up print-out of what appears to be a blog entry. I read it through. I read it through again.
“I don’t understand why you are here. This does not mention the name of your company. It doesn’t mention you. It doesn’t even mention the name of the cad. I don’t understand what you want. By the way, did you know that I charge $350 per hour? The clock is running.”
He grabs the paper out of my hand and points to it. “Don’t you see? Even a blind man could see it! Actually, I retract that. I did not mean to say ‘blind man.’ I meant to say ‘highly valued visually impaired individual.’ Anyone reading this would know that it was us! And other people, on other blogs, said it was us!”
“On other blogs?”
“And Facebook, too!”
I pull out my pipe and tamp down some tobacco, and then light it. “I still don’t get it. Big deal. Let it go. It will all blow over in a couple of days. So you didn’t make the right decision in the end. And this woman took offense at your lenient treatment of this guy. And maybe what you are really feeling is remorse, or regret that you did not handle it differently, but you are committed to a course of action, and can’t change it, or you look like a fool. Even if the whole world seems to be screaming at you to change what you did, and maybe in the back of your mind you think they are right, but you can’t be seen to give in, and can’t be seen to be wrong. I understand. It happens all the time, but you know what, its not the end of the world. Anyway, it certainly isn’t worth litigation.”
He jumps up and points at me. “Wrong decision? Not worth litigation? You say it is not worth litigation? I found three factual errors! Three! Here.” He pulls out an even more crumpled piece of paper from a pocket in his tweed jacket and throws it at me.
I uncrumple it as best I can and read it. To call these points nitpicking would be to denigrate the importance of all the nits and picks in the world. “Okay, these seem pretty minor. Even if they are wrong–and frankly they seem more like you disagree with the implications of what she says rather than the facts–they don’t seem like anything worth mentioning. Certainly this nothing to get in a fuss about. I say just let it go. It will blow over. And, if she sues you in the end, you know where to find Mr. Dewey.”
He is now almost screaming. “Let it go? Let it go? Have you lost your mind, sir? This must be stopped! This blog post is the most outrageous miscarriage of justice since . . . since . . . well in a very long time! I want you to help me draft a letter to the place that published this screed and get it taken care of!”
Not wanting to talk about it with this buffoon any longer, I pull out my iPad and open Wikipedia. I find the entry I want and hand it to him. It reads:
The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.
It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.
Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-sanctioned and government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. 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 man reads it and then throws it onto my desk. It makes a loud crunching sound. “Hey!” I scream. “That cost me $500!” I pick up my beloved iPad to make sure it still works, and the man storms out of my office. “Good riddance,” I mutter under my breath.
Of course, this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.