Over the last few weeks, we have heard and talked about the effects of trolling on interpersonal relationships between individuals such as the tragic Charlotte Dawson case and the abuse of Robbie Farah. What has been flying under the radar so to speak in this regard however, is the extensive damage that trolling can do to business world. Already, more and more Businesses and not-for-profit organisations have famously fallen victim to competitors or activists. As the internet is increasingly become the largest medium for trade and commerce especially for the small to medium retail and service industries the adverse effects of seemingly anonymous attacks during times of business transaction and negotiation are significant.
In a study reviewing various online business auctions sites such as EBay and Gumtree that rely heavily on negotiations and reviews conducted via online mediums among anonomyous users, noted social media scholar Norman Johnson found that trolling “reduces the likelihood of negotiated agreements” (Johnson 2008, p.418). He also found that interestingly there was a notable advantage of the better troll being able to “increase the level of concession” (Johnson 2008, p.418) from the other party. Consider the implication of this pattern. Let’s say someone wanted to buy a second hand cell phone from Ebay but felt that it was out of their price ranged. Through a slew of fake accounts and accompanying abuse and defaming of credibility and character, they could potentially force the vendor to drop their price, who would be keen to initiate a fire sale before their online reputation as a trader was ruined.
Not only has trolling become the manifestation of hatred, sadistic hate speech in digital light-speed form, people who have realised trolling’s potential for financial gain has officially arrived.
Johnson’s study also found that trolling were found on more than 30% of small scale online business transactions. Trolling on larger corporations is lower, but the effects of a mass mobility of numerous trolls who operate round the clock coordinating attacks have a much more pronounced effect on business as corporate reputations are ruined become broadcasted to consumers. In a cynical world view, what’s to stop say Samsung launching a covert trolling campaign against Apple? Or one from Woolworths against Coles? Trolling really isn’t only about personal attacks anymore. Trolling is now whether we like it or not becoming not only part of our society but just as importantly, our economy. Which raises the bigger question when and how do we start tackling this burgeoning problem.
Johnson, A , Cooper R, Wynne, W 2008 ‘The effects of flaming on computer-mediated negotiations’. European Journal of Information Systems, vol.17 ,pp 417–434