Social Media Backlash and Vigilantism

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The internet outcry against Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer after his involvement in the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe was fast and furious. As the story trended on social media, it was swiftly picked up by celebrities who pushed it on to spawn legislation to limit International big game hunting.  Quickly, Dr. Palmer’s life was unraveled.

Whether or not you agree with the anger directed at this man, one should explore the consequences that can result from an online story going “viral” – true or otherwise…

Right now a lot of Americans say that Dr. Palmer is getting what he deserves, but here is what he is getting. Dr. Palmer received death threats. His business has been shut down by thousands of irate reviews on Yelp targeted at his hunting. His phones were flooded and his Facebook page is overrun. People have even showed up at his house, trespassing, leaving messages and stuffed lions. He simply cannot stay safely at his own home and is hidden away and may never be able to come back. No matter how you feel about what he did, there are a lot of illegal actions being taken against him.

The Internet gives people a voice to speak out against things they are passionate about and that is an amazing thing, however there should be limits.  If one has to break the law in order to express their displeasure it crosses those limits. Recently Comedy Central pulled a new program with a comedian known as “Fat Jew” who posted on Instagram and Twitter using plagiarized jokes. Many viewers posted their displeasure in an angry uproar against promoting that kind of behavior and the network pulled the show.  Here consumers of the comedy medium are saying they don’t want to see this behavior and have made their voice heard.  This situation is totally valid because the punishment here is fitting to the actions.

However when people start getting death threats like Dr. Palmer and he cannot safely enter his own home society has gone too far. We can see this with females in the gaming industry that are also sent death and rape threats just because they are the wrong gender in an industry dominated by men. These kinds of social media behaviors happen all the time and should be wholly unacceptable – these situations become permanent by virtue of the Internet and there needs to be more consideration and constraint by all.

These stories take off and are “viral” but what happens if the information the posters are reacting to is staged, fake or inaccurate? Impassioned people with access to social media can ruin lives and grow at an astonishing rate. Social media posts are a tornado out of control when shared and what gets shared is the original post. If new facts come to light that are not as sensational as the original story it rarely gets as much attention as the original story.

This becomes especially troubling when you look at how social media changed the way news affects people’s lives.  64% of adults in the U.S. use Facebook, according to a Pew Research Center report and half of all Facebook users get their news there. So, about 30% of the general population gets their news from Facebook. That statistic becomes scary when you consider the sources of many articles shared on Facebook are blogs and “make like” news sites that have no restrictions on what they can post. Just because a friend “liked” it or shared it doesn’t mean it is true. Consider a story in your news feed: “Favorite sandwich shop is using stray animals in their sausage.” An animal-loving public could act out and devastate the shop’s business in quick anger. Then, it comes out that their competitors made up the story and got it posted on a local blog without proper review. Even if you learn the truth that sandwich shop will always be known as the “Stray Sausage” sandwich place and their legitimate business took a hit and will continue to.

Remember not all stories are created equal, most bloggers are not reporters but write about their viewpoint and opinion, so what you read on Facebook should be researched further just like any other information you may see.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.

Video Transcript:

Irene: So we’re talking today with our nerd on call, Ryan Aldrich, love to have him in the studio with us. And we are talking about internet and social media backlash today.

So the internet outcry against Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer after his involvement in the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, yeah, it’s been really tough, really fast and furious. And this story has really been circulating on social media. Palmer’s life has been unraveled from this. And we want to start talking about this. A lot of people saying on social media that Dr. Palmer is really getting what he deserves.

Ryan: Yeah, and some people, it’s easy to jump on a bandwagon on somebody and say, “Hey, this guy, he did something that was wrong.” The problem is this. Now, when you do something wrong or if you might even call it a mistake, you can’t take it back anymore. The social media outcry goes crazy. And now, it’s a global phenomenon.

So Dr. Palmer, while I don’t necessarily think everybody needs to sympathize with him, his life has changed forever. He’s lost his business. Thousands of [inaudible 00:01:02] on his Facebook page. So he’s shuttered his doors. All of his employees lost their jobs. His kids, going back to school, it’s going to be pretty rough for them. He’s received death threats. His life has changed forever. And his face, as you can even see on the screen, is recognizable. He’s considered the most hated man on the internet right now.

Irene: Yeah, his life has drastically changed. It’s not like before where you would just make phone calls to someone that you felt offended by. This time, you have comments. People see those comments. They write their own. So there’s a whole trail of this.

Ryan: Yeah. And a lot of people say, “Hey, he’s getting what he deserves.” But the problem is, what if the story wasn’t true?

Irene: Right.

Ryan: There was a Pew research study in September of 2014 that said that 64% of Americans use Facebook every single day. And 30% of those people get their news from Facebook.

Now, we’ve all received stories on our Facebook timeline that are questionable in their accuracy. They’re from a blogger or something. And once we see that story several different times, we start to think, “Oh, this is probably legit. This is probably a real story.” And then we start sharing it and liking it. And it starts becoming a big thing.

One thing you got to keep in mind is, when it comes to social media and bloggers, is they’re not reporters. For example, a reporter has to have a couple of different sources to verify a story before it can be released. Well, a blogger can write whatever they want. And in today’s day and age with digital media, I could create a picture within minutes that looks legitimate. And if I share that on social media, it could ruin someone’s life without really thinking about it.

Irene: And it’s so easy to just see those things on Facebook and be convinced that this is true because you’re so emotionally attached to the story or whatever image or video. And you get hooked, and you share it, like you were saying. And then that spreads and spreads and spreads. So how can people really check the sources or know what’s true?

Ryan: Well, for example, one of the best ways to do it is, I use the site all the time when I get something sensational on my news feed, go to snopes.com, S-N-O-P-E-S dot com. And it’s a great website that’ll give you all kinds of facts. So if you say, “Oh, there’s five Fridays in August, and that means some terrible things are going to happen. Let me look that up.” You go to snopes.com, and it’ll tell you, “Oh, no. This has been around since the 1800s. Don’t worry about it.” Or if you look up the Cecil the lion story, it’ll give you the actual facts of the story and things like that.

But one thing we want to do is be calm. When we see something going on on the internet and we get a real and emotional charge about it, we want to reach out and start relieving some of our emotions. But the problem is this. There’s a real person behind that story.

And now, Dr. Palmer, regardless of how we feel about what he did with Cecil the lion, his life is changed forever. And we should consider that because there’s real effects to this man’s life, his children’s life, his wife’s life, and his business. All of those people that worked for him are now looking for jobs because of the mistake that he made. We may not agree with what he did, but is it right that the mob overran him and changed his life forever?

Irene: Yeah, that’s tough. Ryan, can you explain the app of the week for us?

Ryan: Oh, yes. So the app of the week, this is great. So this is called Stop, Breathe, Think. Studies have shown that everyone can benefit from a little time in mindful meditation everyday. But a lot of people go, “What do you do? How do I do it?” Well, this app first asks you questions when you start using it. It says, “How are you feeling? Are you anxious? Are you tired? Are you irritable?” And then what it does is it designs a very specific five-minute meditation that you can walk through and just be calm and breezy. You can go to stopbreathethink.org. It’s free. You can use it on google, android. Or you can also use it on an iPhone. And it is a really great thing. For just five minutes, it can help you relieve depression, pain, all kinds of ill effects that you might be suffering just from our busy life. Stop, Breathe, Think allows you to just take a few minutes just . . . aah.

Irene: Everyone needs that. Awesome. Ryan, thank you for being here with us in the studio.

Ryan: You’re welcome.