When I saw the reports about the killing of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the lion, I was as disgusted as I always am when I hear about someone taking pleasure from deliberately killing an animal as a trophy. I am not opposed to all hunting, but I do find trophy hunting to be distasteful at best. So as the reactions to this particular lion’s death at the hands of US dentist Walter Palmer made the rounds of social media, I felt the same sense of sadness and moral outrage as many of my friends. Still, it wasn’t long before I became uneasy as news that the hunter’s personal information was being made public began to circulate. Known as “doxxing,” releasing personal details like work and home addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers is a method to exact a perverse form of internet mob justice.
Writing for Vox, Max Fisher explains why the internet mob outrage over Cecil the lion is something that should make us all uneasy. Whether or not you think Walter Palmer is a scumbag for killing Cecil is irrelevant, since this form of internet vigilantism can be linked to many different controversies, including the nauseatingly misogynistic Gamergate movement, in which doxxing, threats of violence, and horrific personal attacks against women are the norm. No matter how you feel about Palmer, you should take what Fisher says in this article to heart. Internet mob justice is just the modern equivalent of the pitchforks and torches of yore – in other words, it is not justice at all. Fisher puts it well: “What Palmer did was wrong, and he deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. But it’s easy to forget just how dangerous and unjust ‘mob justice’ is while it’s targeting someone you despise. The more this behavior is normalized, the more likely it is to be deployed against targets who might not necessarily deserve to have their lives destroyed — including, perhaps one day, against you.”