The art of abusing the possibilities of collaboration

On: October 15, 2007
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About Pieter-Paul Walraven
Besides enjoying my MA New Media and doing research on Web 2.0 developments in China at the UvA I am working 2 days a week as a project assistant at KREM ( KREM is a web 2.0 oriented company which specializes in so called corporate social networks. Movies: Koyaanisqatsi, O Brother where art thou?, Amores Perros. When not studying: Golf!, running, traveling, China, Web 2.0. Books: Life of Pi, War and Peace, The World is Flat. Furthermore I am currently doing research on Web 2.0 in China and Chinese Web companies expanding overseas. For this MA thesis research I will travel to China on the 14th of April to interview the most prominent Chinese Web companies that have the ambition to expand internationally.


A few days ago I read a remarkable story in the paper about the readers of an infamous and rebelious website/blog called Geenstijl that was able to mess with the election of the best Dutch slogan ever that was initiated by het Genootschap Voor Reclame (GVR). Because Geenstijl mobilised a great amount of people to vote for their pick of the 20 pre-nominated slogans, the slogan ‘Wij van Wc-eend adviseren Wc-eend’ (‘We at Toilet-Duck advise Toilet Duck’) turned out as the winner with 46% of the 12,500 votes.

This wasn’t the first time the website and its readers were able to mess with online ‘democratic’ polls, elections or contests. Two months ago Geenstijl has intervened in an opportunity for dutch people to come up with a subject for a new informative add by Stichting Ideële Reclame (SIRE). Even though this time Geenstijl did not succeed in their ‘trick’, the idea of the promotion of sausage with a picture in it did lead the contest for a short while.

The first time Geenstijl has showed its co-operative ‘muscles’ and has their members to mess up a contest, was a contest initiated by Dorito’s crips. People were able to name their own flavour and vote for names other people had come up with. Naturally Geenstijl named their flavour Geenstijl, the members of the website did the rest and so for 1.5 years GeenStijl-crisps could be bought in all supermarkets in Holland.

What do we call this phenomenom of en masse teasing behaviour and where did it originate and is there an international term? I have checked the Geenstijl site and ofcourse everybody is very proud to have taken part in the Toilet Duck election, but nobody has realy coined a term for an action like this. On de Volkskrant blog they call it a joke, and on several other websites it is simply called an evil campaign. The only relevant term that is provided on the Geenstijl website is the word they use for members of their site; they are called ‘reaguurders’. Also when I search for early non-Dutch comparitive examples I am not able to find anything. This might be due to the fact that in Holland a relatively small group of people that is into messing with polls, contests etc. is not so widely scattered as for example the online community of bored and rebelious people in the U.S. So is this a typical Dutch thing or are there non-Dutch examples of this phenomenom?

Although I think the ‘en masse voting for (against) something’ is in this case done in a very funny way, the question rises why do people take the effort to co-operate for weird meaningless causes? Geenstijl says it starts these actions because it wants to indicate that online-votings are not reliable and that online-votings are too easy to manipulate. When we look at the background of Geenstijl and the general content on the site, this explanation seems a bit hypocritical; in the past they showed that they never have a purpose or mission (besides making money) unless they are asked for one.

And what the actual reasoning of the voting group of members concerns; my innitial thought is that for the first time the power of the ‘mass’ becomes visible in a very concrete (and in this case childish) way; Geenstijl members and participants can actually see their immidiate power on screen and ofcourse when others are complaining about it, it becomes even more fun. In other words: Geenstijl readers love to feel the force of co-operating with the only reason of gaining as much negative attention as possible. The media ad to this sense since all big newspapers have written about it on-and offline and cases like this have even been broadcasted on TV.

There is not much that can be done in order to avoid or fight the meaningless use of co-operation by Geenstijl. We can only sit back and watch (maybe laugh about) actions like the vote for the not so good Toilet Duck slogan. Since everybody is allowed to vote; it is a democratic election and Geenstijl has the full right to do what it does. I haven’t seen any lawsuits concerning matters like this, but when more important election get disturbed by rebellious blogreaders, this might change in the near future.

<update> I bumped into a term called “troll” today and it strongly reminded me of this post. I checked out the term on Wikipedia and the general definition sounds: ‘a Troll is someone who intentionally posts controversial or contrary messages in an on-line community such as an on-line discussion forum with the intention of baiting users into an argumentative response’. It seems to me that the behaviour described above is almost the same as that of ‘trolls’ with the only difference that in this case ‘trolls’ co-operate with eachother. Pieter-Paul (added: 05/10/07)  <\update>

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