Time and again we’re led to believe that corporations rule cyberspace and people, and that their downfall is the only thing which could bring about a new, enlightened age – with technology its medium. A recent discussion on British national radio has offered a new take on this idea though, as the likes of Dick, Gibson and Stephenson apparently missed a trick.

This discussion, held on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show, explored how reputations are slandered as a result of actions on a computer; it was sparked by stories of computer-illiterate people having pornography placed on their hard drives. What became clear was that this is a remarkably easy thing to do, and it doesn’t just take place on hard drives, as the above country music video demonstrates.

There are stories of a regional water company (left anonymous through BBC impartiality) whose Google search listing was overtaken by one man’s angry rant at them. His site, simply named “I Hate..” and the water company’s name, came into being after a tile was dislodged from his roof by that company’s engineers, working on repairs nearby. He demanded that they pay for the damage, they refused, and their online search listings took a blow as a result.

"United Breaks Guitars" t-shirt

Companies have had their reputations battered on platforms like YouTube too, such as United Airlines, who incurred Son of Maxwell’s wrath when their prized guitars were broken right outside their aeroplane window. I understand from the Radio 2 show that United and the aforementioned water company saw their share prices drop soon after these protests were released. The YouTube video also stands at just shy of 9 million views at the time of writing – that’s a lot of people being delivered a memorable testimony of bad airline service.

Of course it’s not all innocent out there – YouTube itself is owned by Google, and they’re often stuck trying to dodge anti-corporate feelings from the internet populace. There is also an argument for ‘any publicity is good publicity’, with CBS News claiming that United Airlines reacted positively to the United Breaks Guitars phenomenon. Certainly no company has, to my knowledge, been brought down by viral internet campaigns – but perhaps it’s only a matter of time. Who’d have thought online PR would be just as important as keeping hacker-proof firewalls?