Posted by: kevinliebl | November 22, 2009

Social Media – “What Happens on the Internet, Stays on the Internet”

I spoke at a conference this past week, and a very common question was asked from the audience.  “Once I post something on my blog or on Twitter, can I remove it.”  The obvious answer is “yes”.  You absolutely can delete it from your blog and/or from your blog page.  However, the more important answer is “no”.  There is no way to remove it from the Internet itself.  Once you post something on the Internet, it is most likely replicated many times – either manually or automatically.  Tweets are re-tweeted by others.  Blogs are copied and duplicated.  Search engines archive content.  Aggregators automatically duplicate content.  The list goes on and on.

The problem is that once you publish an item (e.g., a blog on a political view, a compromising photo from your trip to Las Vegas or Cabo, a negative product review, or a simple Tweet), it is impossible to retract.  In fact, your efforts to retract the content will typically backfire and make the problem worse.

Barbara Streisand's house

Image of Streisand's house that was the subject of a $50M lawsuit

There is a term in the social media world called “the Streisand Effect” that illustrates this phenomenon.  It is well documented in the book “Groundswell” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.  Mike Masnick, a blogger for Techdirt is credited with coining the term, “the Streisand Effect”, to describe a phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information from the internet backfires, causing the information to be more widely publicized than it would have if no censorship had been attempted.  In 2003, Pilot Gabrielle Adelman and photographer Kenneth Adelman took on the project of photographing the entire California coastline.  They built an extensive library of over 12,000 photographs representing the entire California coast and made them available at  Singer Barbara Streisand requested they remove the photo of her home from the web.  When they refused, she unsuccessfully sued them for $50M citing privacy concerns.  The publicity had the opposite effect and caused people to duplicate the photo all over the Internet.   The following month, more than 420,000 people visited the site.

We all have to remember that the Internet is a living and breathing entity.  Social media is just that – social.  It is a collection of people with common interests carrying on conversations.  There are few boundaries, and that is what makes it compelling and powerful.  It is the essence of free speech.  As with any freedom, there comes responsibility.  The Internet is also uniquely self-managed.  Those who abuse it are typically spotlighted and disciplined by the community.  One recent example was a furniture retailer in the UK who tried to promote their weekly sales on Twitter with unrelated top hashtags (search terms).  The blatant self-promotion under the search terms relating to world crisis and sensitive news items tarnished the company’s brand considerably.

The Internet, like life, has few boundaries.   The potential is enormous.  However, as with life, there are consequences for each action.  Some are positive and some are negative.  Before you embark on your company branding, personal branding or simply your first Tweet or blog posting, consider your actions carefully.

What happens on the Internet, stays on the internet


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