Another day, another dead lion erupting in the world’s media, another opportunity for me to annoy my few remaining anti-hunting friends. Joy. There isn’t too much I could write on the subject that isn’t dealt with much better by David Shiffman, a shark conservationist from Florida. Go read his take. I’ll wait. 

I do want to elaborate a bit on some themes I’ve discussed before next week. But I also want to quickly look at one of the increasingly troubling issues that arose and which David briefly touched on. The internet is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. The mobs that once enforced “justice” in the streets now do so online. I think we’ve all done it. We’ve posted a link of someone doing something shameful. Shoving a cat in a bin. Shot an elephant. Made an off-colour joke. For the story of the last one, I strongly suggest you watch Jon Ronson’s TED Talk on the subject. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you. It’s quite important that you do (or at least read the transcript).

Back? Okay. Now, next, question. Biblical, so apologies, but here we go – who among you is without sin? Who among you has never told a dirty joke? I’ve told jokes far far worse than the one Justince Sacco tweeted. Of course, I was young and stupid (and I have a phenomenal memory for absolutely awful, nauseating jokes, seriously, once I hear them I never forget them). Do I deserve to have my life destroyed because of that? Do you? Is it fair her life was destroyed because hers was public and mine was among family a decade ago?

Maybe you’re the Virgin Mary and you’ve never sinned. You’re still not safe. The power of the internet to doxx (share private information about you widely to people willing to go after you) to harass, taunt, to swat (pretend you’re in a hostage situation so that swat teams burst into your home, potentially with fatal results) to get you fired, to attack your family and friends and isolate you from them (gaslighting, after the film), make death or rape threats, can reign down on you for any reason. For being a girl that beat a guy in a computer game. For speaking out about bullying. For being trans. For being a lesbian couple that complained about not being served in a cake shop. For being the same race as someone who said something racist a decade ago. For being a feminist with an opinion on comic books, or games. Often just for being a woman (its telling how many of these “outrages” about hunting involve women, not men.  The story with Cecil was something of an exception, but the universe didn’t disappoint and sure enough the latest hunter outrage story today is, predictably, about a woman hunter.

I can understand the visceral anger that often causes these internet flareups. Just a few weeks ago I saw an image of animal cruelty in my Twitter feed that still causes my chest to tighten when I think about it. I often am mad as hell about poachers, or corrupt government officials, or other threats to biodiversity. And the internet is a powerful tool to hold the powerful to account. But we mustn’t let go of our humanity or forget the humanity of the people we disagree with. Conservation is not about identifying enemies and fighting them, its about identifying problems and finding and implementing solutions. Hounding a dentist who’s life is already over, making threats, isn’t going to solve Africa’s conservation nightmares. Or make us better people. To quote Jon’s ending:

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans. I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.


Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.