The Internet has given everyone a place to have their opinion and say anything they want, often anonymously. On the one hand such freedom of speech obliges corporations to conduct transparent and conscientious business activities; on the other hand forums and social media allow everyone to criticize people, products, or companies. A lot of attention has been given to the real harm of cyberbullying among children and teens, but little focus has been given to "Corporate Cyberbullying". Many people don't associate cyberbullying with large corporations or small businesses, but the effects can be devastating for a brand's image and reputation.
According to the U.S. Legal Definitions, "cyber-bullying could be limited to posting rumors or gossips about a person in the internet bringing about hatred in other's minds; or it may go to the extent of personally identifying victims and publishing materials severely defaming and humiliating them."
Nowadays, when anyone with an opinion can create a blog or a forum thread and be a self-proclaimed expert, it's almost impossible for brands to fully control their own narratives. Companies can quickly become helpless bystanders in their own story if activists decide that they want to spread information that is true or false against a product or brand.
There are a lot of issues of corporate cyberbullying among large companies. Twitter has become a place where everybody can spread the word to denounce a company's activities and blacken the brand. Starbucks' "Race Together" campaign, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and even Apple are among the companies that regularly suffer from "freedom of speech".
Companies can make mistakes in the past, but the path of whitening reputation becomes trickier with online haters. Another good example would be the software and support service provider MacKeeper. The company has been denounced for advertising and has taken major steps to recover its name: suspending affiliates, 365-day refund policy, anti-scare advertising campaign that allows the general public to report violations. Despite of all changes, MacKeeper is a punching bag for a handful of activists, bloggers, and self-proclaimed "tech experts".
"I would call the false information and the persistent targeted attacks against MacKeeper Corporate Cyberbullying. We listen to our customers and our critics and make the changes they want in our policies, software, and advertising. Our software has been independently tested and proven effective, but a small number of people still call it malware and spread false rumors online. We see the same guys who have been on forums and comment sections for 3-4 years posting only negative comments about our products and will actually verbally attack anyone who disagrees with them. If that is not bullying, I don't know what is", says Jeremiah Fowler, MacKeeper spokesperson.
The Internet is an echo chamber of opinions and has the ability to spark debates and fights over the simplest issues.