Lions and Cowards and Social Media

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-08-11 Email Print this article Print
Social Media Accountability

Social media allows us to define the future of individuals and companies in ways we couldn't have imagined a few years ago—and it makes all of us accountable.

If you had any doubt about the power of social media, it should have been laid to rest by the recent news reports of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer killing the beloved lion, Cecil, after he and a group of poachers illegally lured the animal outside a protected national park in Zimbabwe.

Words like "despicable" and "scumbag" were sprinkled around liberally to describe this trophy-hunter, who apparently paid $54,000 to a pair of local guides to help him capture and kill the lion.

By the morning of July 29, only a day after news broke about this event, more than 750,000 tweets had appeared with #CeciltheLion. Meanwhile, Palmer had shut down his Facebook page, a barrage of vitriolic attacks appeared on Palmer's Yelp business page, and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel took direct aim at him.

Palmer, who had previously killed other big game animals and had pled guilty to lying about his involvement in killing a black bear in Wisconsin outside an authorized hunting zone, issued a press release, shuttered his business and went into hiding. It's safe to say he is now the most hated man on the Internet.

Years ago, Palmer would have most likely succeeded in killing the animal and evading all attention. But thanks to a GPS collar used to track the lion by researchers at Oxford University, he was identified.

Palmer may face legal charges, but it's already clear that his life, as he knows it, will change profoundly as a result of social media. And, clearly, it won't be for the better.

All of this may seem far removed from the daily machinations of running a business and managing IT. But it's a clear reminder that today's technology is increasingly effective at catching liars, cheaters and others through forensic evidence. Transparency is the new normal.

What's more, as BP, DiGiorno, US Airways and many others have discovered, social media increasingly defines companies, brands and public sentiment. It puts power in the hearts and minds of the masses and, in this new world order, allows the public to define the future of individuals and companies in ways that couldn't have been imagined only a few years ago.

Today, social media makes individuals and companies far more accountable for their actions—or inactions.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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