Bad PR 107: UC Davis and the Pepper-Spraying Video

Let me tell you all about a little something called the Streisand Effect.  It works like this – a long time ago, there was a photographer from some publication who was taking pictures of the California coastline in a piece that was meant to be about erosion.  Most of the rich California celebrities whose property was photographed didn’t care.  As they shouldn’t have.  But one person decided to get their dander up – Barbara Streisand.  She ended up suing the publication for $50 million dollars, with her cause of action being invasion of privacy.  She lost.  No surprise there.  As far as frivolous lawsuits go, that’s a big one.

Before this case, nobody had given two shits about Streisand or her property.  But because she worked so hard to make this picture go away, it ended up becoming very, very popular.  So, by trying to erase something from history, that made it more popular.  Hence the Streisand Effect.  In this day and age, that means that the Internet gravitates toward it.  Now that we’ve defined what it is, let’s look at some other examples of it.

Let’s harken back to the beginning of GamerGate.  It all started when Eron Gjoni made a post on The Zoe Post about his breakup with Zoe Quinn.  It was a long, dull piece, with one part that caught people’s eye – where he talked about her infidelity.  But the reaction was what got people’s attention.  Mundane Matt made a video talking about it, and Quinn issued a copyright strike against it.  That’s what got the ball rolling.  Internet Aristocrat then made a video where he dug a little deeper and found out that one of the people that Quinn was sleeping with was Nathan Grayson, a person who had given her positive coverage in the past, and was even listed in the credits of her “game.” Depression Quest.  Well, that didn’t look good.

The Internet decided to go on a spree of talking about this, because by trying to cover it up, Quinn had made the problem even worse.  What’s more, online forums were censoring discussion of this everywhere.  Reddit, 4chan, Neo-Gaf and other places.  This censorship just made the issue grow even more, until it blew up and became what we know today as GamerGate.  The Streisand Effect blew up right in Zoe Quinn’s face, and she has no one to blame but herself.

This brings us to UC Davis.  I don’t know if you all remember, but at the height of Occupy, there was a sit-in protest at the campus, where a cop was walking back and forth pepper-spraying a bunch of kids who were sitting peacefully on the ground with linked arms.  The video went viral that day and it has been a mark on this guy’s reputation forever.  As he deserves.  That guy is a fucking prick, and the university’s tepid reaction was beyond insulting.

Quite recently, UC Davis has been doing everything they can to get rid of that video, everywhere they can find it.  Take-down notices and legal action has been brought forward.  Some estimates put them at spending roughly $125,000 to try and make this video go away.  What do you think the result was?  You guessed right – it’s more popular than it’s ever been.  In fact, it is now the first thing that comes up on Google when you are typing it in.  The Streisand Effect is all over this, and it is because the dumb-fuck people at UC Davis don’t understand how the Internet works.  Not surprise.  They’re stupid, after all.  Nothing’s better than stupid university types.

The Internet has a VERY short attention span.  GamerGate was the first movement of its kind.  The first hashtag movement that grew so big that it was able to keep the Internet’s attention and become a movement that still exists in some places to this day.  Never before has that happened.  If UC Davis had simply let the video stand and not talk about it, the Internet would have forgotten about it.  But because they are so phenomenally stupid, now it is more popular than ever.  It’s amazing.

So the PR lesson for today is – when you do something stupid, don’t try and cover it up.  Just let it play out, and the Internet will forget about it.  Unless you are running for public office.  Then your ass is grass.  And that rent-a-cop is never getting another job like that again, because that video is going to follow him around for the rest of his life.  Try not pepper-spraying kids on the ground next time, asshole.

Until next time, a quote,

“Stupidity isn’t punishable by death. If it was, there would be a hell of a population drop.”  – Laurell K. Hamilton

Peace out,



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