Internet mob justice

The vitriol -“someone must pay!” – feels about the same as the Cecil the lion case.


The story of the shooting of a rare gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo by zoo officials, after a small child slipped into an enclosure and fell into the primate’s area, utterly fascinates me. It has even kept Donald Trump off the lead on the news for a day or two.

What I’ve discovered is that there are far more zoologists in the United States, and the world, than I ever imagined, all well-schooled as animal behaviorists. They seemed to KNOW for a certainty that the 450-pound primate would NOT hurt the three- or four-year-old, even though he had dragged the child through the pool at least twice.

This assessment seems to be based on some case of a child falling into a gorilla enclosure 30 years ago, and THAT gorilla WAS protective of THAT child.

Or in the alternative, these experts in primate physiology attest that the gorilla would NOT hurt the child in the minutes while a painful tranquilizer dart was taking effect.

I’ve also learned that most Americans are PERFECT parents, who NEVER turn away from their child, not even for a second. When I was five, my parents were frantic when I wandered away in Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton, NY.

And, BTW, this incident isn’t about what it’s about but rather the history of human bondage or the shame of horse racing or Americans’ hypocrisy about animal suffering (meat eaters!)

But mostly it’s about the danger of Internet mob justice. “There are reports of online harassment against a woman who shares the name of the 4-year-old’s supposed mother…

“The fundamental problem with mob justice is that it’s prone to randomness…People are calling for someone to be punished for Harambe’s death. But the internet mob has widely ignored other cases in which animals needlessly die. And it doesn’t pay much heed to animals that are suffering in negligent zoos or farms right now, in some cases until their very sad deaths.”

Some believe, perhaps correctly, that race is a factor in this situation; the mother and child are black, I gather. But it shares some of the same vitriol as when some parents let their kids walk home, all by themselves. In some ways, this is different than when a Minnesota doctor shot the famed lion Cecil because the feline was killed for sport. But the vitriol -“someone must pay!” – feels about the same.

So I’m not signing any online petitions to get “justice for Harambe,” especially those targeting the parents. This was a tragic set of circumstances. The zoo is mourning its loss, and the mother has acknowledged this and apologized for her part.

Yet I’m not opposed to the negligence complaint filed by the animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now against the zoo with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The group said in its complaint letter that the child’s ability to get past the barrier was proof the zoo was negligent and should be fined for a ‘clear and fatal violation of the Animal Welfare Act.'” Zoos everywhere, I suspect, will be re-examining their enclosures.

The unchangeable mind

Can’t I be upset about Cecil AND X, Y and/or Z?

bike laneI met this guy the other day, and he made me rethink my answer to Jaquandor regarding his recent Ask Roger Anything question about this: “In this age of increasing partisan division, I am finding it harder and harder to even empathize with the ‘other side'”.

There was this rally I attended a week ago about protected bike lanes and a road diet for Madison Avenue in Albany. Lots of people spoke, fortunately very briefly, as it was HOT. Afterward, this one guy apparently approached one of the speakers, expressing his objections.

As I’m riding off, this same guy says to me, “Let me ask you something.” Hey, I’m a librarian, people ask me things all the time. “I asked this other fellow ” well, something about how, if bikes were going 20 miles per hour, and cars were going 30 mph, the accidents would be worse than if bikes rode on the sidewalk and negotiated around pedestrians going 10 mph. Thus, he concluded, bicycles should ride on the sidewalk.

I told him I agreed with the other fellow he talked to. But, because he really wasn’t interested in a discussion, just agreement, I was unable to actually address the fallacies of his argument, 1) that pedestrians would be more vulnerable on the sidewalk, 2) that the bikes WOULDN’T be going 15-20 mph BECAUSE they would be avoiding pedestrians. Or, and I’ve seen this personally, some of the bikers going through pedestrian traffic, just ringing their bells or shouting for pedestrians to get out of their way, which, as a pedestrian, I hate.

One can make legitimate complaints about bike lanes, in terms of costs and priorities. “When I was a kid” is not one of those explanations that I find useful. I also couldn’t get in a mention that there are places within the city of Albany limits without sidewalks.

Then the guy said, “Don’t you people have anything better to do?” Unsurprisingly, this has NEVER a compelling talking point to me, ever, nor its variant, “you must have too much time on your hands.” Did the people who designed this Bach ball thing, or deconstruct dominoes to put on YouTube, or write a blog every day not have other, more noble pursuits to engage in?

This blog post, Outrage and The Theory of The Universal Double Standard, touches on this. Why are you more distressed about the killing of Cecil the lion than about X, or Y, or Z? Wait, can’t I be upset about Cecil AND X, Y and/or Z?

This guy at the rally continues, more animatedly, “What’s wrong with this country? They spend too much time on unimportant stuff, like that environmental crap” and a litany of other things. What? Dealing with the environment’s a waste of time? A statement just too broad to counter.

“Four Marines died the other day, and nobody’s talking about that…” Except for people all over the country, including more than a few who temporarily provided armed protection to military recruiting stations. The false narrative was jaw-dropping to me.

“Meanwhile, a black kid gets killed and everybody…” At this point I rode away, knowing full well that he believes he’s “won” the argument, whatever that means. And I don’t care.

I got lectured on my Times Union blog about the Socratic method, which I’m not opposed to. But this conversation was not that.

Related: I continue to be fascinated by the means people use to gather news. Recently, someone on Facebook posted something about Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who died in police custody, purportedly by suicide, after an unpleasant encounter with a police officer at a traffic stop. “Did anyone know about this?” Only for the last five days. “I didn’t read anything about it on the Internet.” This librarian doesn’t think “the Internet” is a source, only a conveyance. In any case, the story was on NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, USA Today, etc., including on their online platforms. The story was by no means buried.

That’s not the first time I’ve seen that phenomenon, and it’s often couched in terms of the press “suppressing” the story. I’m perfectly aware of underreported stories, and one should kvetch about that fact when it’s actually true.

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