Portentous overkill – Understanding the ‘Streisand effect’ | 27th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the recent government’s decision to disable access to the first episode of the BBC documentary on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.


  • GS2: Indian Constitution- Significant Provisions and Basic Structure;
  • GS2: Governance
  • Essay
  • Prelims


  • Recently the  BBC released the first episode of its documentary on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.
  • The Union Government after finding it an attempt of “propagandist”, decided to ban it using emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021 and Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000.
  • Instead of restricting access to the documentary after the ban, more and more people gained access to it through other means. This is referred to as the “Streisand effect.”

What is the Streisand effect?

  • Streisand effect is a phenomenon in which an attempt to censor, hide, or otherwise draw attention away from something only serves to attract more attention to it.
  • The name derives from American singer and actress Barbra Streisand’s lawsuit against a photographer in 2003, which drew attention to the photo she was suing to have taken off the Internet.
  • Scholars have noted that censorship often backfires when the public perceives an attempt by a powerful person or organization to repress free speech.
  • It can incite public outrage, especially if the story involves an underdog. Moreover, attempted censorship can spur curiosity.
  • The banning of books and websites, for instance, often drives further interest in them. People tend to want to judge for themselves what is objectionable about something that has been singled out for suppression.


  • This documentary may be the propagandist or may not be.
  • But the government should not arbitrarily block the dissemination of media content just because it is critical of the regime.
  • Its justification to use emergency powers to block access to the documentary, as being propagandist and of a colonial mindset, does not hold water if it is seen in the continuum of coverage of the pogrom and the aftermath.
  • In any case, propaganda should be countered by propaganda, and not censorship.
    The events that led to the pogrom have all been well recorded and commented upon in the Indian press. The BBC documentary is just another media investigation into a portion of India’s history.

Way Forward:

  • The IT rules were amended in February 2021 to allow for increased government control over online news publications — actions that are now being heard in courts.
  • Recent High Court orders have also weighed in on the need to protect free speech and have stayed the government’s moves to control freedom of expression on digital platforms.
  • In its actions, a clear case can be made that the central government is more keen on blocking critical content than using the IT rules to regulate hate speech and misinformation — the true bane of the digital media ecosystem today.

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