The recent scandal regarding Walter Palmer and Cecil the lion has highlighted a problem I’ve become more irritated with over my time on the Internet. What I’m about to say isn’t new but it’s something I want to share.
The Internet is a wonderful place for many reasons, and one of its greatest assets is how it democratizes opinion. The majority of the readers of this blog are from the United States, but even then, they’re a wider audience than what I could hope to achieve with just my immediate friends and family. My voice, that of a high school senior from California, is held in the same sphere as foreign dignitaries, high-ranking politicians, world famous authors and actors, and millions of other people. It can be truly humbling.
However, because every opinion is given a chance to coexist, it gives a megaphone to people with “interesting” views. The person dead center on the political spectrum gets the same voice as the leftest of the left and the rightest of the right. Couple that with the anonymity provided on the Internet and you have a massive combination of people from all perspectives.
Which can be great! I’m glad that so many people can get access to thoughts and ideas they may otherwise not have been exposed to through the Internet. But, this leans people to hyperbolize and exaggerate in order to get their point across. So, when something like the Walter Palmer scandal comes up, what do we do?
Do we try to understand the economic situations that have led to companies in countries like Zimbabwe selling big game hunting permits?
Do we take a step back to reevaluate our society’s perception of wild animals and why we treat them so highly?
Do we think about why someone would want to go to Africa and hunt animals for sport, maybe connecting it back to ideas of imperialism and thinking of the way we view modern-day Africa and how that may be linked to European imperialism.
No. Of course not.
We go on Twitter and make death threats against him.
We go on Yelp and utterly destroy his business.
We go on the Internet and tarnish a guy’s reputation so badly, Zimbabwe is actually worried it might damage relations with the U.S.
Of course that’s what we do.
I’m not defending Walter Palmer or attacking people who are outraged over this shooting. What I am attacking is the way the outrage was directed.
The Internet is a great tool for communication, yes, but it’s also a dangerous one. This blog is lucky that it’s free from restrictions on word count. I can practically talk until I feel I’m done. Twitter doesn’t have that luxury. It’s difficult to have a well-researched and cogent opinion in 140 characters. I get that. Twitter is akin to a megaphone. Anything you say will be projected loud and maybe slightly muffled, but the one thing you can do with it is shout.
And shouting is the last thing we want when something like this happens. We need to discuss why this happened and whether this was an isolated case or part of a trend. Shouting makes you feel good for a bit, but accomplishes nothing. Discussion can be difficult, but it gets results.
There are numerous cases where people took to shouting as opposed to discussion. The recent spotlight on police brutality has only really developed discussion because of the volume of cases. There’s only so many times one can be outraged before you notice it won’t go away because of your outrage. Each of those cases, though, created more that their fair share of outrage, and rightly so.
If you take away nothing else from this, remember: it’s okay to be outraged. It’s okay to feel strongly about something. But if all you are is angry, nothing will change. Things will change fastest when you calm down so we can discuss.