Imagine this: You are the executive of a large corporation, and you have ordered the Chinese factory working for you to cut corners to decrease production costs on your latest product. You've left out a bit here and there (and a bit literally) on the end thingamabob.
Or maybe you are the host of a large MMORPG, and you have just released your latest update, which has patched a few fun, harmless bugs that some players will miss badly. Or maybe your latest expansion pack comes with intrusive DRM that rips the player's computer in two. Or maybe announce a new game only to reveal it was for the iPad or a smartphone? Either way, it doesn't matter — who will ever know? Consumers never tell each other things of this nature, right?
WRONG! If it gets on the Internet, double wrong. You've just awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve.
This is the inversion of Viral Marketing. If someone, anyone, both knows of the offense you are committing and has internet access, they will spread it on the 'Net in any form possible, probably blown out of proportion. The Internet's anonymity allowing for poor taste, libel, and harassment, and its instantaneous communication allowing the hysteria to spread quickly, makes any situation a PR disaster waiting to happen, if not already happening. Before you know it, a stream of viral videos, parodies of your advertisements, and maybe photoshopped pictures of your spouse naked will be all over the Internet for the world to see, and if you're really unlucky or happened to piss off the wrong people, someone will DDoS you or break into a database to steal user information. All of this will emphasize the simple (to them) fact that you seriously screwed up. They will not cease and desist until the "problem" is fixed. In the worst case, they won't cease and desist then, either. (Ask Metallica.) Depending on the context, there can also be Motive Decay at play; when something blows up enough, the chance of it being derailed by psychopathic people who just want an excuse to make threats of violence or spew hateful vitriol increases. These people ruin it for everyone, as it's very easy to look at something that started as a totally legitimate grievance but turned into an Internet Tough Guy circus and dismiss it as the ramblings of stupid, ignorant boors looking for something to get angry over.
Now in this case, the target corporation has three options:
- Fix the complaint. This is most critical if the mistake isn't your fault — say, the Chinese factory was acting on its own. It must be done carefully — enough publicity for people to know the problem is fixed, but not in such a way as to reinforce the problem's existence. Verizon's "Can You hear Me Now?" campaign is a traditional-media example of this done right... Unfortunately, if you have an Unpleasable or Broken Base, this will probably just move the problem around...
- Do nothing! Who cares if the Internet doesn't like you? You still have millions of customers purchasing your products, right?! It can be effective if your product isn't internet-based or aimed heavily at that demographic, and if the counterattack doesn't get too intense. If it does get too intense, it'll spread to traditional media, and you'll have to resort to another strategy. It won't work at all if your product is that MMORPG, whose audience, by definition, congregates on the internet.note Some people will actually carry out their inevitable threat to cancel their account.
- Try to sue the masses for libel. Or, if you can pinpoint the original internet attacker, or the primary source for the attack, sue that. Due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, this rarely works as intended, and often makes the crowd angrier and more rowdy. Organizations who prefer this approach must use a double-pronged attack — they must try to convince any undecided masses that the Internet attackers are in the wrong... Also, actively counter-counterattacking the counterattack almost always leads to the Streisand Effect - people who were unlikely to know, or care, about your mess-up suddenly find their curiosity piqued, and you can probably see where this usually goes.
- Related, but not identical — the DMCA takedown method. It won't work on all attack material, and anything taken down is likely to pop back up, and not even through a mirror or re-upload in some cases: if you truly had no legal grounds to remove a YouTube video, its creator can get it back up surprisingly easily (Also, an unjustified DMCA takedown may lead to another wave of attacks from people who didn't care about the original issue.) Nonetheless, if the counterattack is using footage belonging to the corporate target or photoshopping something truly libelous, it can at least slow the speed of an Internet Counterattack, which can sometimes make the difference between it leaping to the mass media or staying contained on the 'Net. And takedowns are quieter than lawsuits... unless you try it on someone in the League of Reason...
- Almost Human: Disrupt, a protest group performs the same Internet Counterattack protests that Anonymous performs. Subverted in that the real killer is a lone hacker out for revenge for personal reasons, not the actual Disrupt group. The situation that sets them off also bears some resemblance to the Trayvon Martin shooting (a paranoid security system fatally guns down a probably-harmless teenager, leading to "Justice for Aaron" protests)
- Game Dev Tycoon: You may get contacted by patent trolls claiming to own extremely basic concepts used in your latest game. One of the options dealing with this is to attempt to rally your fanbase, which, if successful, is not only free of charge but also makes your company more popular.
- Jimquisition: Discussed in "Corrupt, Censoring, Suicidal Indie Devs", Jim discussed how an Internet Counterattack will likely occur as a result of attempting to censor negative criticism on the Internet.
- Metal Gear Solid: After being presumed dead (several times) by the U.S. government, Otacon and Snake focus on more clandestine modes of warfare, including Anonymous-style activism and sabotage.
- Ask a Slave: In one episode, Lizzie opens the time up to people at home on the internet. She quickly regrets it.
- The Colbert Report: Colbert has requested that his viewers do things on the internet for him several times:
- Once he threw a campaign to get a bridge in Hungary named after him through internet voting.
- His followers accidentally DOSed Conservapedia when Colbert asked them to add him into Conservapedia's Bible Project as a biblical figure.
- He told his followers to edit Wikipedia to claim that the African Elephant population had tripled in the past 6 months, resulting a great deal of vandalism, some of it quite funny.
- Wild Romance: Eun Jae drunkenly runs into Park Moo Yul, an arrogant, notorious shortstop, at a noraebang and gets into a physical altercation with him. A video of the event spreads all over the internet, which forces Moo Yul's publicist to cover it up by hiring Eun Jae as his personal bodyguard and presenting a tale to the public that Moo Yul's life has been threatened.
- Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show: Naruto goads the internet by insulting Team Four Star, abridging, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in quick succession.