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The Streisand Effect


There is one major constant in the internet age: attempts to censor information more often lead to its proliferation.  Two weeks ago, the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” crowds were off in their respective corners and battling it out at political rallies.  Then, the National Organization for Women (NOW) began its campaign to censor a CBS-approved Super Bowl ad featuring Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow and produced by Focus on the Family, a pro-life, Christian group.  NOW has not seen the ad, but hey, “abortion is health care” and this must be just another “anti-abortion rights Super Bowl ad.”  Clearly, “it’s offensive to women,” and “it sends the message that all women who give birth are heroes.”  Wait, what??

It’s exactly this kind of overblown and nonsensical rhetoric that has caused the Tim Tebow ad, a 30 second spot that essentially no one has seen, to explode onto the forefront of the American media landscape.  Far from blocking the ad, NOW’s actions have caused people to focus on it, and the group has been put on the defensive.  They must now answer the question: what’s wrong with sharing Mrs. Tebow’s story about a challenging time when she chose to accept the personal medical risks for her son’s life.  NOW ought to know that’s a debate they don’t want to have.  Despite what their supporters may think, NOW’s attacks appear as a hypocritical criticism of Mrs. Tebow’s choice.

Granted, NOW has also attacked CBS for an apparent shift in ad moderation, but such criticism hasn’t been the group’s focus.  If they had chosen to focus entirely on CBS’s apparent hypocrisy, NOW could have completely re-framed the debate to be about CBS.  The focus would be on the approval process, not the content of the ad.  Before their attacks, NOW could have made the case that ad policy precedent kept “pro-choice” groups from producing a distinctly “pro-choice” ad to complement Tebow’s.  They could have argued CBS was not forthcoming enough about its change in standards, and as such the ad should be pulled unless a “pro-choice” ad could be produced and approved before the Super Bowl.  This approach would have taken the Tebow ad–and its sway over public sentiment–out of the equation.  Under media pressure to prove their “openness,” CBS probably would have accepted the offer and approved any reasonable ad.  Instead, NOW looks petty and anti-choice while a potentially unnoticed ad becomes a magnet for public analysis.

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