Walter Palmer witch hunt shows the web is wilder than any lion

Walter Palmer witch hunt shows the web is wilder than any lion

Right now there is a Minnesota dentist who in the words of Andy Warhol is having his fifteen minutes of fame, but you can bet he wishes he was as anonymous as he was only a week or so ago.

Walter Palmer has currently got himself the unofficial mantle of most hated man on earth, but unlike previous holders of this title like Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden, you can be sure in 12 months time the world will be saying Walter who?

For those of you still unaware, Mr Palmer is a fan of hunting and in pursuing his hobby in Zimbabwe he made the mistake of shooting a very popular and tame lion named Cecil.

Like many who are on social media I have had my news feed almost spammed about this story in the past few days, all posts displaying Palmer as world enemy number one. People who I didn’t even know cared enough to have ever had a pet, have shared this tale fuelling more vitriol on a man who is unquestionably fearing for his life.

Many in the anonymity of Twitter have openly expressed the hope that Mr Palmer is beheaded and skinned in the way his innocent victim was – not nice!

I’ve avoided getting caught up in this ‘outrage’ not because I in any way condone what Walter Palmer has done, but because I think this sad story represents social media at its very worst.

Social media and its power is an astonishing force for both good and evil, but every time we like or share something we add our endorsement.

Well-crafted stories hook us in, those with an agenda suck us in, they play on emotion and those of us trained how to write use these tricks to maximum effect.

As we all no doubt know something can go viral very quickly, but we as individuals have a conscious choice if we really want to control the power of the virus.

For the animal rights activists around the world this has been a PR joy – however, is it right the whole focus of the world and this debate to be aimed at one man, who does what many thousands do?

I would say no. However, there are those who will disagree and I respect their opinions- it’s a big debate.

From a public relations angle though, this has been yet another astonishing example of how social media leads the way now, and dictates what makes the news.

The Walter Palmer tale tells us many things, but above all from a PR view I believe the importance of trying to think through what you post on the internet in an era of astonishing analysis is vital.

It isn’t just the stars now who need to be careful what they put on Facebook etc. The wrong comment or photo can be seized on by those with an agenda, as the tale of Walter the dentist turned big game hunter aptly demonstrates.

It isn’t inconceivable that in a country so gun crazy as the United States that Mr Palmer will pay a very heavy price for his act of barbarism, but I wonder if he does how many of us who pressed share will feel partly responsible?