The Streisand Effect makes Internet hate law transgressors stars.
Khalid Bin Al-Walid Center, a Somali mosque in Toronto's west end, made headlines this week for a string of ignorant comments on its website.
The most original posting, not from the mosque but from a user of the site, remarked that high heels are a mark of the wicked and were popularized by Jewish women.
The above paragraph and other media reports are now the only places to read about these offending opinions; on khalidmosque.com they're nowhere to be found. The mosque's site was wiped clean of sexism and anti-Semitism immediately after the comments were noticed.
So why repeat them at all?
That's a question central to the limits of free speech on the Internet, but one that doesn't get asked nearly enough. Should postings like those that briefly appeared on the Khalid Mosque's site be publicized as hate speech? Or should they be ignored?
The definitive answer, I think, comes from Barbara Streisand, the American actor, singer and diva.
In 2003, Streisand sued a photographer who took aerial pictures of her Malibu home, claiming it was an invasion of her privacy, though the photos were part of a survey of erosion along the Californian coastline. Her efforts to prevent the pictures from appearing online were unsuccessful.
The upshot of her attempt to censor the snapshot was that her house was seen by millions, while it would have been seen by very few had she not drawn attention to it. This unintended result is known as the Streisand Effect.
Khalidmosque.com, the object of worldwide scorn because of the media attention drawn to it, is now feeling the Streisand Effect.
Other notable Canadian censorship attempts are have had such strong Streisand Effects, they might as well have directed and starred in the romantic drama Prince Of Tides.
After an objectionable excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone was challenged at the BC Human Rights Tribunal as hate speech against Islam, the author's star went up. He also faced rebuttals from popular writers like Christopher Hitchens that galvanized Steyn's right-wing base (largely online) and made his previously irrelevant name relevant again.
At the top of his game Steyn wrote for the Wall Street Journal, but in recent years he saw his workload thin considerably. Had the spotlight not been shone on his radical writings, he'd might be filing a weekly column in the community paper in Wasilla, Alaska, by now.
The same can be said of right-wing gadfly Ezra Levant and the anti-Muslim diatribes on his vanity site. He'd been effectively censored by the free market when his hateful Western Standard newsletter went readerless and bankrupt, but was given a new platform when he was taken to the Alberta HRC over his site's questionable content. Now Levant is getting attention as if he were Streisand's beach house.
If society ignored these bigoted fringe views often buried on the Internet, wouldn't they remain fringe views buried on the Internet? Isn't it time to find out?