Lynch Mob, 2015: How Social Media Mob Justice Ran Amok Over Dr. Walter Palmer

LBN’s Bob Donley remembers those old western movies with the scenes of the townsfolk surging towards the sheriff’s office, torches in hand, demanding justice. Those old movies may be gone, but mob justice lingers on, Donley says, in this report.

Donley points to Dr. Walter Palmer as a recent victim of 21st Century mob justice. Palmer is the dentist accused of illegally hunting and killing Cecil the Lion in Africa. Since that story broke (see LBN’s report on the story), the killing of Cecil has become a cause célèbre on the Internet and in the social media. Tens of thousands of posts have attacked Palmer and his right to privacy, his right to conduct a business, and his right to be judged in a court of law rather than a court of public opinion.

Internet trolls have posted intimate details about Palmer’s family. Palmer’s dental practice has been attacked on Yelp, among other places. The attacks were so bad that Dr. Palmer has closed his dental offices. He has been attacked professionally. And he has received many threats of violence. “All of this,” Donley points out, “without a single criminal case even actually being filed . . . . These acts are the absolute definition of mob justice.”

Donley notes that the mob frenzy hasn’t just affected Dr. Palmer. His employees are now former employees, since he closed down his practice. His patients are being forced to find a new dentist. And his family members are being exposed to the hatred directed against Dr. Palmer, though they have done nothing themselves.

Donley says that as the killing of Cecil the Lion was tragic, so is mob justice. Social media posters running amok is not an acceptable alternative to letting the criminal justice system function as it was designed to do. “He deserves what justice will bring.” Donley reminds us that the sheriff in those old westerns never backed down because he knew that “mob justice is no justice at all.”

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