Admittedly, it’s quite difficult to generate a massive amount of sympathy for Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. In case you’ve forgotten, he managed to see off Zimbabwe’s favourite lion, Cecil, while on one of those awful big game shoot safari holidays that seem to be the penchant of overgrown school children with lots of money and an incomprehensible blood lust for impalas.
While lots of people travel to Africa every year to shoot animals dead just so they can look all macho on Facebook posing beside a limp carcass, Walter unfortunately chose Cecil to be on the receiving end of his cross-bow-a 13 year old lion, described as a ‘local favourite’ and ‘star attraction’ at the country’s world famous Hwange National Park.
While no one can deny his was an ignoble act, the international outrage towards Walter Palmer is phenomenal and still going- and much of it driven by social media.
Last week we blogged about public shaming for idiotic tweets, and this story is a follow on from that. It’s just in this case, social media was not the origin of the story, but was used as a very effective tool to send it world-wide in a very short time span.
Lion killing, tooth puller Palmer’s fate was sealed once the big celebrities began to tweet about the incident and their millions of followers did likewise. One tweet from comedian Ricky Gervais, for example, has been retweeted 40,000 times at the time of writing. As well as being swamped with abuse from all corners of the internet, his dentistry business has been attacked with hundreds of negative online reviews and he has been threatened with violence. In addition, the 55 year old has received tens of thousands of death threats, his home has been vandalised and he has been forced to hire a private investigator following threats from animal rights activists.But Palmer has said he didn’t know the shooting was illegal and has since publically expressed his regret. Now, forced into hiding, there have even been calls from a senior Zimbabwe minister for his extradition to Africa to face illegal hunting charges.
Unfortunately for him, the damage is done. His apology was like sweeping leaves in a hurricane and he may now be wondering if his life will ever be the same. Thanks to the internet, when you Google Walter Palmer, you will no longer get a link to his dentistry practice, but rather a huge amount of coverage of that fateful night in Africa.
Ultimately, unlike the idiotic tweeters we discussed last week, his actions are harder to defend and can’t really be dismissed as a joke. In these cases, it’s usually best to apologise and keep a low profile until the storm subsides – just as he is doing, partly for his own safety.
Possibly in this case, Palmer will eventually give an interview to selected media once the general public grow tired of baying for his blood. He may even use social media to get his point across but we certainly wouldn’t recommend he does this any time soon. His best option is to identify his supporters and attempt to rally them for the future. Already, there is growing criticism of the way he was hounded, with many media commentators pointing out how disproportionate it was, and how ridiculous the hysteria eventually became.
If you are accused of a crime in this country, you face a jury of your peers in a fair and balanced trial, you have the chance to defend yourself and have that defence considered.
This is NOT how it works on social media, and the modern day equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials can be seen over and over again not just with Palmer, but many others, often for the most innocuous reasons. While shaming of the Walter scale is probably nigh on impossible to completely come back from, it may be cold comfort to know that eventually, the baying mob will have moved on to someone new, and you can begin to pick up the pieces of your life.
Next time, we recommend he goes on a cruise.