The Internet mainly runs on three things: electricity, data, and self-righteous anger. You name a topic, and we’ll find a group of people that is somehow somewhat offended by something someone did or said (guilty as charged, thankyouverymuch). Which brings us to the ongoing shit-storm surrounding the untimely death of Cecil the Lion. You have heard about him if you logged on to FaceBook at any moment in the last few days. Long story short: a US dentist/hunter by the name of Palmer out on a safari shot and killed a lion in Zimbabwe, making him one of the millions of animals killed by humans each day. End of story, right? Nope, the Internet had its whims blowing in the direction of **** that one guy and that thing he did! and released wave after wave of e-hate.
If you thought that was a bad enough case of the Internet overreacting to things, you must not have heard of the insane Dutch equivalent of the Cecil killing outrage: the infamous Domino Day 2005 sparrow. Why is there a mundane bird named after one of the most boring activities invented by mankind? Because back in the dark and cruel days of the year Anno Domino (sorry, I couldn’t resist…) 2005, a sparrow threatened to ruin the television event known as Domino Day by pre-emptively knocking down the carefully placed dominoes. A total of 23,000 of them, mind you. Needless to say, the Dutch quickly decided that the strategic positioning of twenty-three-thousand inanimate objects was worth more than an insolent bird, who was swiftly shot and killed.
I don’t even need to explain that this caused a shit-storm made up entirely of poorly spelled death threats, right? And to ride the insane-train to the final stop: the man who shot the bird was eventually fined for € 200,- after Dutch animal rights activists successfully sued him. The bird’s corpse was later put on display in the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam as part of an exhibition entitled ‘animals with a story’, being featured next to the last known pubic lice and the first known bird species to commit acts of homosexual necrophilia. This is not a joke.
So obviously we care a lot about the unlawful killing of animals. Well, some of them more than others, of course. Because we all know that all animals are equal, but…
In fact, we care so much about them that more and more people are picking up on the fact that social media mob justice is out of control. The outlandish and above all massive and well-coordinated digital attacks on Palmer, who has since fled from his home and dentist practice, are symptoms of a deeper lying disease. Mob justice on the web is less about finding a proportional punishment for a crime, and more about picking out a crime and creating group identity by collectively hating on a single person (or a small group of people). As usual, the underlying cause of this particular on-line movement is not moral concern over cruelty against animals, but vanity and a superficial fondness for the Internet-mascot-of-the-week. Above all vanity: it’s impossible to put someone down without at the same time raising yourself up (again, guilty as charged). Every time someone commits a heinous crime against another human being there’s always that one douchebag who seizes the opportunity to talk about how horrified he is about that tragic event because he’s such a sensitive person who couldn’t vandalize another person if his life depended on it.
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