It can affect anyone who moves on the Internet. Whether as a person, organization or company. And once you are in the center of a Shitstorm, it is usually already too late.
Recently I browsed once again “In the swarm – Digital Views” by the Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han. There he recalls the German philosopher Carl Schmitt, one of whose most famous statements was “whoever commands the state of emergency is sovereign.” Byung-Chul Han brings this statement to our time, in which he writes: “Whoever has the shitstorms of the net is sovereign.”
What’s a Shitstorm?
The old black-and-white film adaptations of horror stories like Frankenstein have created a good picture for a Shitstorm. A Shitstorm has to be imagined as a group of angry villagers storming off with pitchforks and torches – only digitally. So you don’t need much imagination to know that you don’t want to be in the center of a Shitstorm. But anyone who moves on the net, especially with offers such as Facebook or Twitter, quickly exposes themselves to the danger of landing there.
It often affects people in public life such as politicians, actors or media people, but also companies or organizations. A provocative or even misleading statement can trigger it – and then good advice is expensive. Hundreds, thousands of users then gather together and comment, post or tweet in a bet to brand the real or even just interpreted atrocity. Only a few of them are present with factual criticism, usually below the belt and not infrequently even threats are made. One is particularly at risk with political or social expressions. When the Italian pasta manufacturer Barilla stressed that he would only advertise with the classic family image of man, woman, and child, but not with a homosexual couple, he had to face a Shitstorm. When a German journalist put a “#Nazis out” behind a tweet on Twitter that didn’t really fit into the context, a right-wing shitstorm poured over her, even threatening to rape her. If you want to be safe from a shitstorm, you can practically only talk about the weather – and yet there you should choose every word with the utmost care.
For some, a Shitstorm can also have consequences in the real world, as the story of an American advertising manager a few years ago clearly showed. Before the young woman got on a plane to South Africa, she tweeted about the high AIDS rate among the black population there. During the flight, a Shitstorm, unknown until then, poured down on her, which she only noticed after her landing in South Africa. Within a short time, her employer reacted and put the young woman outside the door. AIDS may indeed be disproportionately more widespread among the black population in South Africa than among the white or Indian minority, but bringing it into context triggered the accusation of racism.
How do I deal with a Shitstorm?
The reactions of those affected always depend on the respective case. Companies, for example, that get into a shitstorm through a heavy marketing campaign, often give in within minutes and apologize in big words for their mistake. In a way, they hope for mercy, which they never get because their apology does not reach the majority of the Shitstorm users anymore. And if it does, the apology will be seen as what is not uncommon for. It’s an apology because you have to, not because you’ve accepted a pang of guilt. One doesn’t survive a Shitstorm through a successful counter-reaction, but because the anger and hatred from the effect that triggers the Shitstorm has exhausted itself at some point. Or because it merely hits the next one. A few companies have understood this and are sitting out Shitstorms without giving in. In Germany, for example, a large dairy company is known for this, which has already fallen into a shitstorm from the left because it engaged an Austrian folk rock’n’roller as an advertising face who stood too far to the right. Behind this, of course, there is a little bit of the view that we can’t do anything anyway, but we can get through it with our heads up. This may also be the best method because the Shitstorm suggests size, but in the rarest cases, it should actually represent the opinion of the majority.
Who’s using pitchforks and torches?
But the strange thing about such a Shitstorm is those who participate in it. It occurs when enough multipliers jump on a trigger. Multiplicators are in a way spokesmen, who in turn have a lot of fans, supporters, followers, etc. behind them. It’s piquant that Shitstorms of course only host the others, while you just exercise your right to freedom of expression. Whoever participates in a Shitstorm, therefore, tends to see himself in the right, even in the obligation, to clarify something or to take a position against a position that he considers to be wrong. Even he speaks of a Shitstorm only when it either affects him or someone whose views he shares. In this respect, I also have to put up with the question of whether one or the other fast tweet on Twitter was already a virtual pitchfork that I recorded. And I shouldn’t be alone with that.
Thomas Matterne writes stories since he can write. His first professional path, however, was a job as an online journalist at a local TV station. While he works now more in the field of PR and marketing, he is also still a passionate blogger.