The rise of an online 'lynchmob mentality' is identified in a research study of UK social media habits.
Conducted by Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster, the study of 1,200 UK adults revealed that 23 per cent were willing to lash out at companies and brands online, because of the medium's relative anonymity.
It is a finding that starkly demonstrates the potential for crises that brands now face online.
Over the past year, brands such as Paperchase, O2 and Spinvox have been hit by vociferous negative campaigns against them on Twitter.
'What you find is that once people get the idea that everybody is doing it and having a go, then it snowballs,' said Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster chairman Graham Lancaster.
'We're at that tipping point. Anonymity is making those of us that are timid join in and feel they are part of a counter-capitalist community online.'
Lancaster said that clients needed to be 'prepared' if they hoped to deal with an online 'lynch-mob mentality'.
Sixteen per cent said they had also lashed out at employers. Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster digital director James Poulter noted that, increasingly, normal social norms did not apply online. 'Particularly with Twitter, because of the nature of the medium, it gives you permission to be rude,' said Poulter. 'Because it's only 140 characters, you do get to do away with the formality.'
Poulter said brands needed to be better educated about how to respond to online threats: 'You need to use a bit of standard common sense.'
The study also surveyed the impact of social media on a range of issues. Twenty two per cent said they felt more connected to British politics because of social media, while 54 per cent said expert online reviews influenced their purchase decisions.
23% are willing to lash out at companies and brands online
34% think business pitches spoil the social media atmosphere
54% rely on online expert reviews for purchase decisions