What is a troll? Scandinavian mythology describes them as ugly, dangerous, annoying, human-like creatures that possess magical powers and live in dark places. Although not magical, present day internet trolls share the rest of these characteristics with their mythological relatives, in addition to one more – they are very dangerous.
Internet trolling began as a benign exercise in self-amusement. In the early ages of “trolling”, internet trolls would invade discussion forums, chat rooms or blogs with the express but ultimately harmless purpose of drawing an emotional response from the readers/visitors and later engaging in heated arguments with as many possible users.
However, the destructive appetites of these trolls soon proved insatiable, and insulting innocent commenters that simply wanted to express their opinion was simply not enough to satisfy it. Therefore, to expand their horizons they began targeting, well, everyone and everything. Proof of this are the well-known internet memes, which are images with satiric content that spread “virally” from one person to another via the Internet. Memes spare no one – you can find memes that contain images of grandmas, puppies, celebrities, political leaders, the pope, the mentally challenged, and even gods – no one is safe from internet trolls.
But why are trolls so dangerous when it seems like the worst they can do is give you a headache? Well, if you’re one of the people who believes that, you’re wrong. You might think of internet trolls as just a bunch of nobodies that hide behind a computer screen and try to hurt everybody to compensate for their real-life frustrations and insecurities, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. However, internet trolls are powerful creatures, and they know it. They can bring down people, organizations and even companies in the blink of an eye.
Internet Trolls don’t need much to hurt companies. Although they are not magical themselves, they live in a magical place that allows them to do everything they want. That magical place is called the internet. All they need is an internet connection, a device with a browser, and a bad day to take their frustrations out on everything and everyone.
Here are some examples of companies that had well intentioned marketing campaigns that did not take into consideration their natural enemy, the trolls:
These campaigns went horribly wrong and ended up causing great damage to the brand of their company and the people involved in it. It is not easy to estimate the monetary losses that companies suffer because of trolls with these types of campaigns, but to get a rough estimate, Twitter offers different types of advertisements: promoted tweets, accounts, which might go up to $4.00 per interaction, and a sponsored trend cost $200,000 a day. The McDstories hashtag was taken down after 2 hours of activity, and had thousands of interactions, therefore one could estimate that internet trolls cost McDonalds around $250,000 in just a couple of hours.
The “internet troll virus” is a contagious one. It can infect anyone in seconds, immediately turning them into an angry and strongly opinionated troll. In the real world, this is referred to as ‘Mob Mentality’. All it takes is one individual to rally others behind and idea, whether it’s good or bad. Influencers with many followers in social media can reach thousands and even millions of people across the globe in just seconds, turning a group of individuals with nothing in common into an angry mob ready to bash anyone on the internet.
Even though there are physical borders in the real word, there are none on the internet, with the exception of some countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China and others. The clear majority of countries have no restrictions on the content a user can post online, therefore everybody from basically anywhere can access the information. These conditions make trolls especially dangerous since they can target companies from anywhere in the world without getting on an airplane.
In conclusion, beware of internet trolls, they are waiting for you, to make fun of your hashtag, turn you into a meme, and give you their unsolicited in-expert opinion. Next time you think of an internet troll, don’t just imagine a sweaty, greasy, single man that lives in his mother’s basement and spends all his spare time trashing you on social media – remember that a troll can be anyone. Even you!