An American dentist killed a lion in Zimbabwe and everyone on the Internet lost their minds.
And it doesn’t surprise me one bit.
In case you missed it — and you likely haven’t — Minnesota dentist and North Dakota native Walter Palmer is accused of killing a collared and protected lion named Cecil after allegedly baiting it out of a Zimbabwe preserve with the help of hunting guides in early July. Whether or not this basic version of the story is completely true or not, Palmer’s life as he knew it is over.
Why? Because of so-called social justice and Internet-fueled outrage. Palmer has received death threats, is loathed by millions and will probably never be able to re-open his practice, leaving his livelihood in jeopardy. He has been the target of animal rights activists and regular people the world over. Hundreds of thousands have signed a White House petition asking for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe.
Palmer and his guide have admitted they screwed up. The aging lion was protected and shouldn’t have been killed. It is very unfortunate.
That said, how much does it really matter?
Will this single incident change the face of big-game hunting in African nations? You can bet those nations whose economy and rural tribes depend on hunting hope it doesn’t. Will it shine a light on the real problem African nations have with the poaching and trophy hunting of protected and endangered animals? One can only hope that’s a silver lining.
To me — the average person who didn’t know Cecil the Lion from Tony the Tiger until earlier this week — what’s more concerning is the amount of attention our society paid to this single incident and other insignificant stories like it. Why do we care about this so much? For that matter, how many people actually care about this and how many just weighing in to be a part of the social media outrage du jour?
There are bigger issues out there in the world than this, right? Wasn’t there something about aborted fetus organs being brokered in lunch meetings by Planned Parenthood officials? Didn’t the U.S. just pave the way for a Middle Eastern country we constantly feud with to have nuclear technology? The most popular 2016 presidential candidate is a billionaire who can’t stop saying crazy stuff. It’s all gold.
But who cares? Cecil the Lion was killed, Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was upheld, Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show premiered and “The Bachelorette” didn’t pick that scumbag Nick! That’s what really matters.
This past week is a reminder of how our society consumes information 140 characters at a time and how we’re navigated there by algorithms directing us to the most popular hashtags, likes or shares, and posts with the most comments or retweets — all of which are forgotten almost as quickly as they’re read.
Rarely do we consume important and unbiased national and international news. We see what’s trending first. What’s important — aka what’s boring — last. We’ve told our devices and apps what we want to see, and it’s Cecil the Lion. So that’s what they’re giving us.
Whether it’s a flag or a lion, someone’s off-color joke in a tweet, or a gaffe caught on video, no one is safe from the “social justice warriors,” as they’re known — the people waiting to pounce on any post, video or photo they don’t agree with personally and turn the subject’s life into a living hell.
More than anything, we need to stop supporting blind Internet outrage and the hate and vitriol it breeds.
Americans should stand up for freedom of speech, but we sure as heck shouldn’t stand for mob justice. Because what is social media outrage’s purpose, other than to incite the mob?
Perhaps the most telling line of the week concerning the Cecil the Lion saga came from a Zimbabwean woman who told the Associated Press that Americans care more about the incident her average countrymen. Eunice Vhunise said she didn’t “understand the whole fuss.”
“There are so many pressing issues in Zimbabwe — we have water shortages, no electricity and no jobs — yet people are making noise about a lion?”
If only Americans knew or could relate to the Zimbabweans’ real struggles. Maybe then we wouldn’t worry so much about a lion and “social justice.” I wonder what Americans will be outraged by this week?