If it becomes known that someone of power, fame, or influence is using strong measures to attempt to suppress a piece of information or a work, then many people will want to know what it is even if they never cared before.
Something horribly embarrassing or personal about you is released — perhaps a sex tape, or a rather embarrassing photograph — and you want that information locked back up. So you do whatever it takes to make the information go away: lawsuits, cease-and-desists, DMCA takedowns, whatever you have at hand. But instead of the information remaining obscure, the information becomes more widely known as the efforts to censor it become public, and people who would otherwise be uninterested are curious as to what the commotion is about. The information gets mirrored and copied and spread at a much faster rate than before the censorship attempt, often to the dismay and frustration of those trying to prevent it, and becoming a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
Blogger Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the phrase when Barbra Streisand — trying to suppress a photograph taken of her house, the one to your right — attempted to sue a photographer and force him to take the image off of his website. Predictably, this backfired: the Internet imp of the perverse was roused and now everyone wanted to see the photo that Streisand didn't want them to see. News of the photo's existence spread far and wide, with others quickly mirroring it on multiple websites as a Take That to Streisand. It should be noted that this wasn't some paparazzo taking pictures specifically of her house; rather, it was part of the California Coastal Records Project, a government-commissioned photographic study of the entire California coast.
This is traditionally an Internet-based trope, since the spread of information is much faster, easier, and more difficult to stop across the 'Net than through other means.
Psychologists have done studies and found that the subjects' desire for any kind of potentially censor-able material increased when the subjects were told that it was censored. The old Forbidden Fruit principle in action, in other words. Perhaps any authority considering the use of censorship should worry that this move might be counterproductive if it just gets people interested in the censored material. "Banned in Boston" was once a badge for the book in question, much like R-ratings on movies are for kids.
There's a general principle here that almost everyone learns back in childhood: when someone looks like they're hiding something, they probably are, and it's probably something interesting. The only way to really keep something hidden is to have nobody looking for it in the first place. Of course, being too casual often results from this, and sparks the same reaction.
Not to be confused with No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, which is very similar, but occurs when Moral Guardians attack something and draw more attention to it. This trope is basically that but without the Moral Guardians.
A form of Revealing Coverup. Sometimes related to Clumsy Copyright Censorship and, more rarely, Fanwork Ban. See also Internet Counterattack. Basically opposite to Forced Meme, where the individual or company tries to make something as popular as possible, and fails in much the same way for much the same reasons.
For lovers of exploitation films, the old list of Video Nasties put together by the British government makes a great place to start.
If a movie is banned, expect lots of viewers to seek for it illegally.
A combination of the two examples above; by banning The Human Centipede 2 in the UK, the BBFC managed to give it large amounts of international publicity for free.
William Randolph Hearst was well aware of this trope. Rather than having his media empire attack Citizen Kane, he forbade them from mentioning it at all. It worked. Although the film managed to make enough to break its budget, the lack of publicity prevented it from being a success, and it was largely forgotten about until its revival.
If You Love This Planet, an anti-nuclear documentary produced by the National Film Board Of Canada, was suppressed by the US Department of Justice in 1982 as "foreign political propaganda." The move backfired, causing a storm of protest that helped the film win the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject.
In one of the oldest examples, Copernicus's book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (advancing a heliocentric universe) was put on the Vatican's index of forbidden books in 1616, and was followed less than a year later with a new edition. Not bad for a technical textbook that had been out of print for 60 years prior.
Fictional example: In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's Quibbler interview setting the record straight is paid little attention, being that it's in a tabloid rag. Then Umbridge threatens to expel anyone caught with a copy of the Quibbler, and Hermione is delighted, explicitly pointing out that this guarantees everyone will find a way to get their hands on it. It helps that the Quibbler is so innocuous that most people were buying it just to figure out what on earth it printed to warrant getting banned.
Lynne Cheney (wife of Dick) wrote a novel in 1981 called Sisters, featuring sexual content and lesbianism — her attempts to prevent a 2006 reprint actually helped publicize it.
McDonald's sued a small activist group over a flier being passed out at one of its restaurants, that alleged certain wrongdoings by the fast food chain. If left alone only a couple hundred people may have seen it, but the trial ended up taking over a decade and got international media attention. After spending millions on lawyers, McDonald's was awarded £60,000 in damage from the activists. Of course, it could be argued that the value of dissuading others from attempting libel was more important to them than the costs of the single trial.
Fox's lawsuit against Al Franken over his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, claimed that the title infringed on the "Fair and Balanced" slogan of the Fox News Channel. Franken and his supporters still insist the real man behind the suit was Bill O'Reilly for what Franken said about him in the book. News of the lawsuit caused the book to shoot up to Amazon's number one seller before it was even officially released. As for the suit - many of the plaintiff's arguments were met with actual laughter in the courtroom, and Fox dismissed the suit at the judge's recommendation.
A minor example from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the author of the worst poetry in the universe is named in the original radio show as "Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, Essex" — a former schoolmate of Douglas Adams, who wrote deliberately terrible poetry and who respectfully asked that his name and location be removed from the book adaptations. Thus people now ask why the name changed from Paul to a 'Paula' in Sussex in subsequent versions and discover the story of where Adams got the idea from.
Older Than Feudalism: In one of his moral treatises, Seneca speaks of a house on the coast that was property of Emperor Caligula, which was destroyed by that emperor, because his mother was detained as a prisoner by the former emperor Tiberius. Seneca related that when strangers saw the house they didn't pay any attention to it, but since Caligula left only ruins, all were interested to know its history.
Dr. Jose Rizal's famous novel Noli Me Tangere, whose controversial content earned the ire of the Spanish Friars, caused the latter to declare that anyone reading it would be charged with heresy and be excommunicated. This only caused the local populace to become curious, causing sales to skyrocket.
In the novel Cat's Cradle, the entire religion of Bokononism is outlawed in The Republic of San Lorenzo, and its practice is punishable by death. Naturally every single citizen, including the President who issued the law, is a devout follower. This is actually by arrangement, and part of the point of Bokononism: to create an entertaining drama (the tyrant in the city and the mad prophet in the jungle) that engages the people and helps distract them from how poor and miserable their lives are.
Played with in A Song of Ice and Fire. When rumors come out regarding the incestuous relationship between Cersei and Jamie, Cersei wants them crushed. When asked what he would do, Tyrion's response was, basically, "Nothing. If we leave it alone, everyone will forget the instant some other scandal comes out. If we crush it, it will only spread and convince people that it's true."
Many libraries and bookstores invoke this trope during Banned Books Week, putting up displays of frequently banned books and prompting kids to read them to see what all the fuss is about.
Live Action TV
Fawlty Towers and its main character Basil Fawlty was based on Donald Sinclair, an eccentric and irascible Torquay hotelier whom John Cleese had observed during a stay in his hotel during a Monty Python's Flying Circus shoot. Years after the success of the show, Sinclair's widow contacted the newspapers to complain about the depiction of the character based on her husband, claiming that Cleese had unfairly exaggerated his eccentricity, incompetence and foul temper. Far from salvaging her husband's reputation, however, all it did was provoke a lot of independent witnesses to also contact the papers with a lot of anecdotes that suggested that not only was Cleese not too far off the mark, if anything he'd actually been rather generous. His widow kept silent after that.
And now readers of this site know that Basil Fawlty was modelled after an actual person, which they might never have guessed otherwise. The only clue in the actual show is a brief reference in The Builders to the Gleneagles (Donald Sinclair's hotel) which, like Fawlty Towers, is in Torquay. Granted, if you are not in the know, this fact would be quickly dismissed.
Australia's Channel Nine promoted the beans out of Underbelly, and Australians were certainly interested in this tale of the gangsters they heard about on the news. However the legal battles the show faced with issues such as the concurrent court cases leading to it being banned in Victoria out of fear of influencing the jury made this something of a Forbidden Fruit for Victorians, and interest in the show exploded to the point where radio hosts would take calls about the series being offered bootleg at construction sites, then say where they got their own illegitimate copies from.
An in-universe example occurs in the second season finale of Arrested Development. Maeby is tasked with producing an American remake of a French film about cousins who are in love with each other (mirroring George-Michael's feelings for her). Ann organizes a protest which ends up making the film a hit.
In the Father Ted episode "The Passion of St Tibulus", the eponymous film, condemned by the Pope as "blasphemous" and banned everywhere else, is being shown on Craggy Island because of an unknown loophole. Bishop Brennan orders Ted and Dougal to picket the cinema showing the film. The protest has the effect of making the film (which is in French and undubbed) the most popular in the history of Craggy Island. Their efforts are the current page image for Moral Guardians
Bishop Brennan: People are coming all the way from GDANSK! to see the film.
Married... with Children was an extreme case. The famous Rakolta Boycott led by Terry Rakolta backfired completely. A few sponsors did withdraw support for the show, but the stocks for its biggest one, Bounty, skyrocketed, and the show's ratings dramatically increased. The boycott ultimately had the opposite effect than intended, when curiosity about the boycott and the show itself created a ratings boost for the series, potentially being the cause of it lasting for several more years. The show itself made reference to it in one episode featuring a television show made about the Bundys' lives, which got immediately cancelled because "Some woman in Michigan didn't like it".
Kitchen Nightmares had the infamous "Amy's Baking Company" episode, in which viewers watched in shock as they saw the store's owners, Amy and Samy, berate customers, employees and even Gordon Ramsay himself, their egos clouding even the basic of criticism and interpreted it as attacks. When the episode was over, many of the viewers approached their Facebook page to express their displeasure, only to have the two blow up at them. Many people came to friend it on the basis of watching their breakdown.
A later episode of M*A*S*H had the gang trying to get a copy of the film The Moon Is Blue because it had been banned in Boston. Charles, a Boston native, cautions that Boston would have banned Pinocchio, but Hawkeye and BJ pay him no heed, thinking it must be steamy. The capper to all the troubles they had obtaining it was them watching it and finding it terribly inoffensive.
BJ: There was more filth in this morning's breakfast!
A campaign to ban Housos from Australian TV backfired when two big TV networks, 9 and 7, slammed the show as Reality TV filth. When it was pointed out that Housos is actually a satire with paid actors (and had never pretended to be anything else) they ended up promoting it instead to cover their embarrassment. Its creator, Paul Fenech, credited this with bringing the show to a wider audience.
Suing Private Eye for libel never does anyone any good. All it does is draw out the Eye's story and attract the attention of other news sources. Even if you win, no-one has enough faith in British libel law (or the Eye's ability to defend a case) to believe that this means it isn't true.
After the release of the Queen song "Death on Two Legs," former band manager Norman Sheffield decided to sue for defamation, despite the fact that he was never mentioned by name. He succeeded only in informing the world whom the song's scathing insults were targeting.
Metallica's hardline stance on peer-to-peer downloading resulted only in their songs being even more widely pirated. Other bands were hit by this to a lesser degree.
Drake averts this, in fact he almost inverts this. Even though both of his albums have been leaked ahead of time, he usually is okay with it, though his record company is not as happy.
When Tipper Gore announced that she was trying to censor 2Live Crew's music in the late '80s, their music became even more popular.
After some radio stations banned Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" due to its perceived anti-Catholic message, the album it was on - The Stranger - shot up the charts.
An example of genre savviness; Eminem, after receiving an award for his breakthrough album, publicly thanked all the people who threw a shit-fit over said album for making it a hit.
Weird Al benefits from this from time to time. Coolio's anger over Amish Paradise helped make the song a bigger hit, for example.
Before Straight Outta Lynwood was released, "You're Pitiful" a parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" was set to be the lead single. At the last minute, Atlantic Records changed their mind, and "White and Nerdy" became the lead instead. And Al released the song for free and performs it on tour, mocking Atlantic in the process. And due to the backlash (and the video for "White and Nerdy"), the Other Wiki had to lock Atlantic's page to prevent Al's angry fans from defacing it.
When the Sex Pistols released "God Save the Queen" in 1977, both the BBC and the IBA refused to broadcast the song. It quickly reached number one on the singles chart.
One of Dara O'Briain's stand-up routines discusses the briefing notes he sometimes gets when he does corporate gigs for particular organisations which ask him not to mention certain things. Asking a comedian not to mention something, as he notes, is like 'a red flag to a bull'. He also points out that most of the time he wouldn't even have considered mentioning whatever he was asked not to mention in the first place if the extremely vague reasons why he shouldn't mention it hadn't made him all the more curious about it.
Bill Bailey had a similar bit about the Swiss investment bank UBS prohibiting corporate stand up gigs from making cracks about Nazi Gold. So Bill walked on, mimed asking to open a pension, and when asked with what currency he replies "Naaaaaaaazzzzzziiii Goooooooooold! Just like YOU did!".
Done in-universe in Paranoia. The friend computer decided that all the worlds problems were caused by communists, causing a nuclear war, and created a very tightly controlled world that seeks to crush any communist thoughts. A communist faction does exist in the game, only because they think that it must be good because the Friend Computer thinks it is wrong. However, most records of actual communism didn't survive, and they gladly follow the teachings of Groucho Marx and John Lennon.
Eurogamer writer Robert Florence posted an article about how video game journalists seem to be indistinguishable from public relations, which included some tweets from Lauren Wainwright regarding her suspicious enthusiasm towards the new Tomb Raider game and her defending a journalist's right to win a free PlayStation 3 by advertising on Twitter. Instead of writing a rebuttal or simply ignoring the article, Wainwright threatened legal action for libel against Eurogamer, causing Eurogamer to remove the tweets from Florence's article, and Florence to resign soon afterwards. The story spread like wildfire, and it also dug out more suspicious information, such as Wainwright's freelance employment with Square Enix, the publisher of Tomb Raider. Wainwright tried to do damage control by insisting that no legal threats were made and even removed Square Enix from her resume, but screencaps of her unaltered resume and Florence's original article are mirrored everywhere.
At E3 2013, Geoff Keighly interviewed Don Mattrick (the then President of Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft) about the Xbox One. When asked about the console's then mandatory Internet connection, Mattrick said that if fans didn't like it, they should buy an Xbox 360 instead. Microsoft immediately attempted to take down every video related to the interview, but news of it had already spread.
The Cynical Brit did a first impression video for a game called Day One: Garry's Incident, which he heavily panned. The creators didn't like his criticism and so they used YouTube's infamous Copyright Notice feature to remove the video, later claiming that he didn't have the license to make profit off it. This caused the Brit to give a fifteen minute rant calling them out for the abuse, giving hard evidence that their claim didn't hold up, and using it to point out instances of other, smaller channels being attacked like this. The original video is back up on the Brits channel, and all the creators seemed to do was further increase their infamy, as people now not only know that their game sucks, but also that they're sore losers about it.
The view counts on these videos: The first impression (before removal): 150 thousand. The rant about the removal: 3 million and counting.
Pictures of a digital Ellen Page, found by playing Beyond: Two Souls in the debug mode, were uploaded to the Internet and got a modest number of views. Then Sony tried to have them all taken down, and interest in the pictures skyrocketed. The digital Page happens to be naked, by the way, so NSFW warning.
Their legal run-in with American Greetings over a Strawberry Shortcake parody image resulted in the image being spread across the Internet on such a wide basis that it's very easy to find the image nowadays, even though it's no longer on the Penny Arcade site. To this day, Archive Bingers are taking note of AG's overly-protective legal department. Given the near-universal demographic and high fungibility of the greeting card industry, it's safe to say that they're still losing the occasional sale to it.
Freefall: Sam Starfall has apparently had previous practical demonstrations of this trope, according to this strip
Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
Christian Weston Chandler, creator of Sonichu, was initially just a random comic artist with big, yet child-like, dreams. The effect kicked in after a random encounter with a member of 4chan led to the creation of an Encyclopedia Dramatica web page. His attempts to get rid of it and the incidents it caused on the Internet and in real life would lead to more people to find out more about this man and his creation. And a whole lot more, but that's a completely different story.
David Gonterman is one of the earliest cases of the Streisand Effect going way back to 1995-1998. Initially an unexceptional fanfiction writer and comic artist with enough weirdness to attract a number of MSTs, he invoked the effect when he started throwing tantrums over any criticism and went on a crusade to get all his works deleted from the internet. A number of websites dedicated to archiving his works popped up. On the flip side, were it not for this effect, he would never have achieved the Z-list cult celebrity status he enjoys today.
The MPAA encountered this in 2007; it attempted to stop popular social aggregator Digg from allowing an encryption key to the HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats from being posted with a DMCA takedown. When the takedown attempt became public knowledge, hundreds of stories containing the key were submitted and upvoted on Digg. For hours, dozens of repetitions of the magic number formed literally the only content on the entire front page of the site. Simultaneously, dozens of other websites mirrored the key in defiance of the censorship. Eventually, Digg executives threw up their hands and said, "Fine. You guys want this information here so bad, so we won't try to stop you anymore." And the MPAA couldn't really do anything about it, because the way Digg works, the chances were slightly worse than "hopeless" that the initial DMCA takedown would have really worked anyway. In layman's terms, the legal system only works because people let it; if enough people refuse to, the law has nothing it can actually do about it. More people probably can recognize the string of numbers that who ever bought a HD-DVD player.
Predictably, some people posted the encryption key on That Other Wiki, and the administration wanted to have it removed. This led to the same effect in miniature, as other editors copied the key to their user pages and let it spread like wildfire all over again.
The Church of Scientology ran afoul of the effect in 2008, and probably wishes they could turn back time and take it all back: their DMCA takedown of a video on YouTube of Tom Cruise talking about Scientology resulted in the eventual creation of Project Chanology, the ongoing Internet-based crusade to have the Church's status as a religion revoked and to bring to light the various wrongdoings of the Church. Similarly, after Chanology's creation, attempts by Scientology to have specific documents about the Church and the religion itself erased from the Internet have failed miserably, with mirrors popping up almost as soon as a takedown attempt is issued.
You'd think that the Church "probably wishes they could turn back time and take it all back", but you'd be dead wrong: Scientology's founder, Hubbard, said that when dealing with criticism "never defend, always attack". This has led the Church to shoot themselves in the foot so often that Scientology critics coined a term for it, "footbullet". So it's a good bet that if they had the chance to go it all over again they'd either do it exactly the same, or turn it Up to Eleven.
This is a celebrated YouTube counter-tactic to any video takedown, especially if it's levied against anyone affiliated with the League of Reason. If that happens, you can always expect the offending video to be mirrored on hundreds of channels the next day.
In 2009, an advertisement from fashion company Ralph Lauren was posted on the blog "Photoshop Disasters" and tech news website Boing Boing because of the excessively thin appearance of the model in the ad. Ralph Lauren sent a DMCA takedown notice to both Blogspot (the host of "Photoshop Disasters") and Boing Boing; while Blogspot removed the post, Boing Boing refused on the grounds of fair use and publicly mocked the takedown notice in a satirical rebuttal. From there, the story picked up steam and was talked about on hundreds of other websites and blogs, each one mirroring the ad in question. Days later, Ralph Lauren apologized for the horrible Photoshop, not for the DMCA takedown notice.
In February 2010, Microsoft forced security web site Cryptome offline with a DMCA takedown notification to their hosting company, due to Cryptome hosting Microsoft's "Global Criminal Compliance Handbook" - a guide on the surveillance services Microsoft performs for law enforcement agencies on its online platforms - for all to see. When Cryptome went down, the web replied in kind, with many sites hosting the document themselves in protest of the DMCA takedown. Microsoft eventually saw what kind of a backlash they were risking, and backpedaled quite furiously: they pulled the takedown notice, apologized to Cryptome and its readers (saying they only wanted to have the document taken down, not the entire site), and worked with Cryptome's hosting company to get the site back up as fast as possible.
Wikileaks. The U.S. government felt huge concern when Wikileaks stated that it would leak something very big. Much to their fear, they leaked 250,000 cables, pissing them off enough that the Pentagon was reported to have been looking for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's location. Needless to say, more people have heard about it. And for a time, Google suggested it when you typed the very first letter of its name, suggesting it above even The Other Wiki.
Once, a woman in Wisconsin note We don't name her here, out of a perverted sense of mercy, but the curious reader will find plenty of Google hooks below posted a comment on a blog. The blog owner later let the blog's domain name lapse, and it was taken over by a namesquatter who redirected visitors to various sexually explicit websites. Some time later, the lady did a Yahoo! search on her own name and was mortified to find that one of the links in the result set led to porn. She set out to restore her good name and reputation, and figured that the best way to do this would be to sue Yahoo! for willful malicious defamation. In open court, where she offered to prove that she is a sophisticated, well-educated and highly intelligent professional woman, with important and valuable friends, that she in no way has ever engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle, or other overt sexual activities, and that she has written two poems that appear on Danish Web sites supporting the preservation of the baby seal population in eastern Canada. For this she was roundly ridiculed in the blogosphere. Then it appears that Anonymous took an interest in the case. Guess what the poor lady now finds when she Googles herself?
That's right, folks, the weirdest effect of Streisand Effect ever: stories about the controversy about the controversy. Yep, somehow, public coverage on the whole thing smokescreens the original concern. So, uh. Good job?
When British footballer Ryan Giggs was caught having an affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, his lawyers filed a super-injunction to keep Thomas from selling her story and the news media from revealing his name. Many news channels and magazines took offence to that, starting a debate on the nature of super-injunctions and using many Suspiciously Specific Denials to hint at his identity. When his name was revealed on Twitter, he had his lawyers try and sue Twitter for ignoring the injunction. Twitter, of course, is not bound by UK law and this action only caused many celebrities and ordinary users hitting back by revealing his name in their feeds. Congratulations, Giggs: You made an enemy of boththe Old Media and the New Media and turned a one-shot story that would have grabbed the attention of a small portion of the public for a few days into a national debate that went on for weeks, while becoming the laughing stock of the foreign media, who are not bound by UK laws.
The entire mess eventually reached Parliament, where questions were raised about how relevant the law was considering the rise of social media. You know you messed up when the Prime Minister is talking about your affair in the democratic forum of the nation.
MP John Hemming: It would not be practical to imprison the 75,000 Twitter users who had named the player.
A debate between Jerry Coyne and John Haught on the subject of compatibility between science and religion ended with the audience firmly on the side of Coyne. After this Haught refused to allow the video of the debate to be distributed. The backlash to this refusal reached far more people than would normally have been bothered to watch a one-hour academic debate.
In 2008, The Other Wiki's page of the Scorpions' Virgin Killer album became one of the most popular pages on the site after the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation blacklisted it for containing "a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18", and the image was even spread across other sites as a result of the publicity. The IWF de-listed it three days later.
In 2011 two teenagers, Austin Zhender and Will Frey, sexually assaulted 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich at a party, leading to a double dose of this. The first came after both boys made a plea bargain admitting to felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism; in exchange, the court (attempted to) forbid Savannah from identifying her attackers under threat of jail time - she later posted about the incident on Twitter, and the story was promptly snapped up and spread like wildfire across the Internet.◊ The second dose came after the boys' lawyer attempted to silence her a ''second'' time, accusing her of "ruining at least one of their lives" and attempting to have the boys' names removed from the Internet, leading to still more backlash against Zhender and Frey. The entire debacle has ensured that information about the incident, which would have otherwise been completely disregarded by the media and eventually forgotten, received significant media attention and is now on prominent display across the Internet for everyone to read.
An interesting variation: In 2013, shortly after Barack Obama stated that he goes skeet shooting, the White House posted a picture of the president firing a gun, which itself isn't a problem, as it's allowed to be posted on news outlets and the like. However, the photograph in question came with a note that stated that the photograph was not allowed to be manipulated in any way. This caught the attention of a handful of people on the Internet, and so within a few days there have been a significant increase in pictures of Obama firing Super Soakers and ray guns, while shooting at everything else.
A few months later, the President himself made light of this during a press dinner and showed a photoshopping of it himself.
The Swedish Language Council found that more and more people were using the word "ogooglebar" - "ungoogleable" - and added it to a list of neologisms, noting that most people seemed to use it to mean "something you can't find on the Internet" rather than "something you can't find specifically through the services of Google, Inc"; after all, "google" isn't capitalized in the word. Google threatened legal action unless the Language Council removed it or let them define exactly what the word should mean in Swedish. Cue millions of Swedes who couldn't care less before taking every chance to use the word, turning it from a word used by a few to a generally accepted term.
In April 2013, the French domestic intelligence agency DCRI attempted to have an article about a military radio station deleted from the French version of The Other Wiki, first appealing directly to Wikimedia to have it removed and then, when that didn't work, pressuring a French-based administrator with 'reprisals' if he didn't remove it. This, naturally, caught the Internet's attention; the article was swiftly reinstated, there's now an English language version on The Other Wiki, and all up a lot more people now know about the station's existence than ever probably would have had the French authorities not simply left it alone.
Worm features an in-universe example on the Parahumans Online forum where people are noticing that the word "Cauldron" is hidden unless censored, such as with an asterisk.
IMDB was sued for $1 million by an actress named Junie Hoang for publishing her date of birth. She alleged that the site facilitated age discrimination but lost the case. So now the whole world knows she was born on July 16, 1971.
On April 27, 2013, a Journal Roleplayer created a journal with the intent on RPing a character from The Slutcracker, a sex-filled parody of The Nutcracker. After posting on the testing journal "Dear Mun", the first post is of its creator, Vanessa White, who demands in public that the pictures she used for the journal and the journal itself be removed or face legal action, leaving the poor fan to quickly remove everything. Other RPers take her to task, leading her to delete the account she created.
An online store called Kleargear invoked a non-disparagement clause to "fine" a woman $3,500 for breach of contract. Why? She posted a negative review on Rip Off Report because the item her husband ordered didn't turn up, which breaks a term. Only problem? That term wasn't there when she ordered it, and the review had been up for years. That's right, these people deliberately ruined a woman's credit rating because she wrote a negative review for failing to send items. Cue Internet Backdraft. This Redditer sums up why this was a terrible idea:
Apockalupsis: Cool, so since the vast majority of people reading about this story have never bought anything from Kleargear, and thus never 'bound' themselves to this obviously ridiculous contract, we're free to flood the Internet with negative reviews about them. Congratulations, dumb webshop owners, you've not only gotten a first-hand lesson in the Streisand Effect, you've turned one unhappy customer's review into literally the end of your business!
In-universe example: The South Park episode "Cartmanland", where Eric Cartman buys an amusement park for the sole purpose of keeping people out and having it all to himself. He might have gotten away with it if he hadn't aired commercials extolling the park and then stating no one could come. The commercials drew people's attention to the park, and rising expenses, like security to keep them out, forced him to have to let more and more people in, turning the park from a financial failure to a success. Not that Cartman cared.
South Park had a real life example when they ridiculed Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology.
Another episode had the kids become enthusiastic about having to read The Catcher in the Rye after finding out it was banned in some schools and supposedly inspired people to kill celebrities. When they actually read the book, however, they're annoyed that it's basically a normal novel with the occasional curse word.
She Zow got the best free publicity possible when the far right One Million Moms attacked it as promoting a "gay transvestite agenda."
This is why My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is so insanely popular: two news articles attacked the series, stating that it was "the end of creator-driven shows" and that it was discriminatory towards people being individual. People on the internet, wondering why a cartoon about technicolor equine would earn so much vile, tuned in and the rest was history.
A very odd example from South Africa. In May 2012, an art exhibition was held in Johannesburg called Hail to the Thief II, which featured art by a local artist named Brett Murray. One of his paintings was called The Spear, which depicted President Jacob Zuma in a pose similar to Victor Ivanov's Lenin Lived, Lenin is Alive, Lenin Will Live, only Zuma's genitals were exposed. A newspaper, City Press ran a story of the exhibition, and printed the picture and placed it on their website. For close to a week nothing happened; then Zuma's party, the ANC, threatened to take the Goodman Gallery to court while publicly condemning the painting and demanding that City Press remove the image from their website. Because of the growing hostile response from Zuma supporters and the ruling party itself the picture got duplicated in newspapers and websites around the world, and even led to the creation of a Wikipedia page with the offending picture right at the top.