Why Do People Initiate an Online Firestorm? The Role of Sadness, Anger, and Dislike

Elena Delgado-Ballester, Inés López-López, and Alicia Bernal-Palazón
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 25, Number 3, 2021, pp. 313-337.


Brands have become the target of online collaborative attacks performed by networked consumers who share negative brand content, leading to the so-called online firestorms (OF). Its detrimental effects on reputation, sales, and stock market performance make the understanding of OF emergence a managerial priority as well as an interesting area for academic research. We adopt a novel perspective in the analysis by drawing on the appraisal theory of emotions to dig in the emotional nature of the phenomena. Specifically, our research analyzes the role of three specific negative brand emotions (sadness, dislike, and anger) in a model that encapsulates cognitive, emotional, and motivational drivers of the initiation of an OF. The findings obtained from a sample of 303 individuals exposed to a brand misconduct episode suggest that openly expressed feelings of anger, dislike, and sadness emerge in response to outrage appraisals associated to the episode. However, only anger and dislike provided the impetus for taking revenge on the brand in the form of an OF. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon since the role of emotions as a basis for explaining the act of initiating an OF has been overlooked. To practitioners, we offer some guidelines to monitor and manage the negative emotional content posted by individuals as mitigating them reduces the desire for revenge, which is the force behind their intentions to foster an OF.