Thursday, 5 January 2012

Streisand, Poe, Sturgeon and Arkell

The first is an Effect, the second and third are Laws and the fourth is a Response: all these are familiar to users of the internet. They have been described by Wikipedia or the Oxford English Dictionary as follows:

The Streisand Effect: This is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence 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.

...The term was coined after Streisand, citing privacy violations, unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for US$50 million in an attempt to have an aerial photograph of her mansion removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman said that he was photographing beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. 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. 

Poe's Law: Named after its author Nathan Poe, this is an Internet adage reflecting the fact that without a clear indication of the author's intent it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism. Its core is that a parody of something is by nature extreme. That makes it impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism.

A corollary of Poe's law is the reverse phenomenon: legitimate fundamentalist beliefs being mistaken for a parody of that belief. A further corollary, the Poe Paradox, results from suspicion of the first corollary. The paradox is that any new person or idea sufficiently extreme to be accepted by the extremist group risks being rejected as a parody or parodist.

Sturgeon's Law: A humorous aphorism which maintains that most of any body of published material, knowledge, etc., (or, more generally, of everything) is worthless: based on a statement by Theodore Sturgeon, usually later cited as ‘90 per cent of everything is crap’, typically used of a specific medium, originally science fiction, and now frequently also of information to be found on the Internet.

The aphorism was apparently first formulated in 1951 or 1952 at a lecture at New York University and popularized at the 1953 WorldCon science fiction convention.

The Response of Pressdram to Arkell: An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in what is now referred to as the "case" of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971). The plaintiff was the subject of an article [in Private Eye] relating to illicit payments, and the magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell's lawyers wrote a letter which concluded: "[My client's] attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply."

The magazine's response was, in full: "We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that your client's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off."

In the years following, the magazine would refer to this exchange as a euphemism for a blunt and coarse dismissal: for example, "We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram". As with "tired and emotional" this usage has spread beyond the magazine.

(There is also Godwin's Law, but this is not so much a law, more an adage or a memetic tool.)



Froog said...

If you could have such a rule or law or precept named after you, Mr B, what would that be?

Perhaps you have already composed one or more such?

Tony said...

Too many to list here, my dear fellow. The best-known is the Wittgenstein/Omf Alternative: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereon one must be silent, unless one feels like a bit of a chat."

Froog said...

A fine way to get the ball rolling.

I'm sure you have a few more in you. Perhaps that could an idea for a post from you later in the year.