Staff Ed: Online Shaming

Over the summer Walter Palmer traveled to Zimbabwe on a big game hunting trip in the hopes of taking home a lifeless trophy. The lion he ended up shooting––in an area where he did not have a permit to hunt––was Cecil, a well known lion in the park where he lived, that was being studied by student researchers at Oxford University. While the KE staff does not agree with what Palmer did, what we really believe everyone should be shaking their heads at is the flood of internet shaming that Palmer faced in the aftermath of the shooting––the hateful messages that not only tarnished his career and reputation, but drove him into hiding.

The internet provides a platform for people to exercise their right to free speech and voice their opinions to a wider audience. However, there is a line between voicing an opinion and plain shaming that the members of the Knight Errant staff do not believe to be hazy. 

Having free speech and the platform of the internet to apply it, it is important that we use our right in a way that is beneficial to everyone––in other words, using it to voice well-structured opinions rather than senselessly attacking another person’s character. A well-structured opinion is  informed and respectful, and focuses on addressing the faults in the argument, not the other person. What to avoid when using social media to convey an idea or opinion is an uninformed stream of hateful words toward a person that has more to do with what a terrible person he or she is, than the argument at hand.

Another important aspect to understand about the internet is that the words typed out and sent with a quick click can actually carry even more weight than words said aloud. Since words on the web can be absentmindedly typed and sent into the invisible cloud of the internet, it is easy to forget that those words  actually exist in an immediate reality and do not only have virtual consequences.

Cecil may have already drifted to the back of people’s minds by now, but he definitely will not drift out of Walter Palmer’s, whose life is forever impacted by the cyber shame that he received on Twitter, Facebook and every news station in America including Jimmy Fallon’s viral speech after the shooting of Cecil. Palmer made an impactful mistake, but his job, home and family did not deserve to be completely destroyed through a viral wave of cyber shaming.