One of the emergent behaviors that has come about as a result of the rise of the Internet and social media is the “Streisand effect.” If you haven’t heard of it, this is how Wikipedia defines it:
The Streisand effect is a phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
On October 4th, 2019, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet that said “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” That’s all. A short, simple tweet in support of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. It didn’t disparage or insult China or the Chinese leadership in any way.
Despite the fact that the tweet itself is basically innocuous and was posted by someone that is pretty much unknown outside of Houston and hardcore basketball fans, China (the CCP) went crazy over it, cancelling appearances by NBA players in China, citing it as evidence of US meddling in China’s affairs, and severing ties with the Houston Rockets, among many other completely over the-top reactions to what should have been a very, very minor incident. If China had simply ignored the tweet, it would have amounted to nothing, and by now it would have been largely forgotten.
But instead, the CCP turned it into an international firestorm, forcing the NBA commissioner to issue a statement that was a half-apology that then had to be walked back after he got criticized in the U.S. media. NBA stars were asked for comment and subsequently made fools of themselves. Chinese Internet trolls (五毛党 – the wu mao dang – literally translated as the “50-cent party”) even issued death threats over this innocuous tweet, saying it threatened China’s sovereignty and disrespected the Chinese people. Joe Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, issued a widely-ridiculed statement “explaining” why the Chinese were so sensitive to the tweet.
And in the end, what was the result of all of the uproar? More people than ever in the United States and internationally are aware of what is happening in Hong Kong and support the people of Hong Kong in their fight for human rights and democracy. At a Brooklyn Nets basketball game at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York, hundreds of people wore black Stand With Hong Kong tee shirts and face masks mocking Carrie Lam’s ridiculous ban on face masks in Hong Kong:
In addition, more and more people are aware of and speaking out against the CCP’s other abuses of human rights. At the same game, demonstrators protested China’s long-standing occupation and subjugation of Tibet:
The backlash against China’s completely over-the-top reaction to Daryl Morey’s tweet perhaps doesn’t exactly fit the Wikipedia definition of the Streisand effect, but the principle is the same: attempts to suppress information – in this case, the CCP’s attempt to suppress support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement by anyone associated with the NBA – just leads to more and more people wanting to know why it is happening and being interested in it. A minor incident that would have been nothing quickly turns into a major, widely known and discussed issue.
The CCP’s over-reaction to Daryl Morey’s tweet and the backlash to it is an example not just of the Streisand effect, but also of an “own-goal.” Here’s another similarly embarrassing one:
The CCP has an incredibly thin skin, constantly over-reacting to minor slights and insults, which shows their lack of maturity and self-confidence. Will they learn a lesson about the Streisand effect and own goals from this incident? Doubtful.