by Marie Meyerding

Shitstorms – have you heard of them yet?


(Yeah, sure! There’s nothing Hermione hasn’t read about, I suppose.)

Nowadays every one of us is confronted with a great deal of news on the internet everyday


And we do not only read what we see but we repost, answer, like and comment.


For sure there are some things we like


and some we don’t


and since we say what we think, we’ll leave a critical comment just like everyone else who dislikes the same thing.


And if there is a great deal of hard-hitting replies that fast:


and if of this large number of critical statements or comments



at least some go off on a tangent and tend to turn against a single person, a company, a party or an institution


by an appropriate use of language


but really often as well by means of insulting


you know: a storm is coming!


– So, shitstorm describes a public outcry on the internet. –

Since 2010 the term is used in German media and it was listed as the German anglicism of the year 2011 as there was no such word describing a public outcry on the internet before. It has become a keyword only five years ago.


Five years ago a completely new way of expressing one’s opinion and thereby being able to maybe change something one dislikes got named. Just by telling via the internet what you dislike can (in case there is a big group of people that dislikes the same thing) put a great deal of pressure on a single person, a trust or an organization.
So you could say that shitstorms represent a completely new way of the freedom of speech.

There is one good example of an O2-user who claimed that he had problems with his cell coverage in 2011. The answer from O2 was that this was just an isolated case. The blogger who did not want to take that for answer created the website (“we-are-isolated-cases”). On that particular website thousands of people claimed that they had the same problems with their cell coverage. As a result O2 promised to extend their cell coverage. By now the website is shut down due to its success.

As you can see politicians, celebrities, trusts, organizations etc. suddenly have many more potential critics to deal with.

Now every single person can become extremely important and powerful not by where they live or what jobs they have but by knowing how the internet works. The phenomenon of shitstorms challenges us to reconsider the balance of power in our society.

Furthermore, a new branch of online reputation management came into being as you can see for instance by the appearance of the company that created the shitstormsimulator.

On the other hand you could say that it is a completely and aggressively new form of cyberbullying.

Often it seems like the actual post that provoked a shitstorm gets less and less important during the course of reposting and commenting so that the pure action of being against something/someone or making fun of something/someone is what stands in the center of the shitstorm.

As an example we can take a look at the case of Justine Sacco. Her life was destroyed after one tweet that was meant to be funny but was taken as racist and elusively inappropriate by the online community. She tweeted this before she went on her flight to South Africa and just when she arrived she understood the mess it had created:


During her flight the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended worldwide and when she finally landed the nightmare just started. She never thought that anyone would take her message serious, but there were lots of people who did. Justine Sacco lost her job, a part of her family turned against her and all the harassing messages she got made her feel terrible.

Every post, blog entry, Tweet or Facebook status could evoke a discussion that goes further than the person who started it ever believed, for better or for worse.

Actually, the internet does not only give bullying a new platform. It itself creates completely new forms and cultures of bullying. Web pages like reddit or 4chan depend on the fact that different issues are emotionalized and rated by the online community. The users stay completely anonymous, plus all pictures and messages are neither censored nor moderated. Before these spaces were invented it was not so easy to blame someone without exposing your identity. This leads to a new global culture of rudeness and bullying.

And there is even more to come. Have you ever heard of human flesh search engines? BBC describes it as “cyberbullying on an epic scale, sometimes involving hundreds of thousands of anonymous Chinese internet surfers gaining up to uncover the identity of an unsuspected target.” Even though the pillory got into use as an instrument of punishment by public humiliation 900 years ago, mankind did not manage to abandon it but it even gave it new spaces to become global and widely accepted whether by human flesh search engines or by shitstorms.

Fortunately, there also is an antonym to what’s called a shitstorm, which is a candystorm or lovestorm. Like the German politician Claudia Roth got elected party leader after a Candystorm in which many people of the twitter community praised Claudia Roth for her work (#Claudiamussbleiben – #Claudiahastostay).

In my opinion it’s neither an evidence of our society’s deterioration nor a sign for us to become a more forward-looking, international society. The inclusion of this keyword into our everyday language just expresses who we are today. And that the internet changes who we are today and who we could be tomorrow.

And for all of you who take part in shitstorms not to make a change but to say all the forbidden words you know without thinking of the consequences of your own behavior:


Annotated bibliography: 

1. This article is adapted from the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” written by Ronson and it’s about the shitstorm against Justine Sacco which I mentioned in my text already. Brilliantly written it describes how the social media can turn against individuals who had underestimated the power of the internet. The motives of people to take part in a great cyberbullying movement like the shitstorm are explained quite well. Additionally Jon Ronson mentions some other cases in which a picture, post or tweet that was meant to be funny destroys the life of the person who posted or tweeted it. He also mentions the history of public shaming for a better understanding of the phenomenon on the internet today.

2. By the use of a strategy game the internet user gets to approach to the dark sides of a shitstorm. In the game she/he becomes the victim of a shitstorm herself/himself and gets to know how hard it is to defend oneself in that situation. As a part of the theme week “tolerance” presented by the German television station ARD in November 2014 it got introduced together with a text explaining the background of the game and the phenomenon of the shitstorm which comes up when the game is over. (→

3. This shitstormsimulator bridges a gap in the market. With this simulation companies, labels and individuals which are vulnerable through social media channels can practice the case of an emergency, of a shitstorm in real time. This website explains what a shitstorm is, who it’s target can be and how they can help you overcome it unscathed. The provider “Revolvermänner” describes himself as the market leader for strategic management of reputation and shows how important a good reputation for a business is and how fast it can be destroyed due to activities on the internet.

4. This article in “The Guardian” is about the admission of the word “Shitstorm” to “the most respected dictionary in the German-speaking world”, the Duden.

It shows how the term got into usage as an example they take Angela Merkel saying it during a discussion in Berlin with David Cameron. Why there are so many anglicisms in the German language is another issue discussed in the article and some examples for widely used anglicisms are given. Additionally the German history is taken into account to explain why the Germans seem to have a penchant for English words.

5. This blog entry shows the importance of the keyword “shitstorm” for it’s time, the 21st century. In a fun way 7 facts are connected to explain this new phenomenon on the internet.

6. This video defines a shitstorm, explains the term’s history and gives three examples for “famous” shitstorms. The whole video stands out due to it’s easy, comprehensible language and the self-explanatory animation that supports the content of what is said. Especially the examples show you which huge dimensions a shitstorm can take no matter whether it’s a single person like the German soccer player Mario Götze, a company like Pril or a brand like the pasta brand Barilla.

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