People from around the world have been expressing their anger at Dr. Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, on social media. While he has been the top target of angry social media users this week, he isn’t the first person to have the furor of Twitter and Facebook users aimed at him.
Crisis communications expert Jim Lukaszewski says the best way to combat the online ire is to act swiftly and sincerely. If not, the nature of social media can allow the controversy to explode into a worldwide phenomenon.
“It just has this explosive effect that can be very powerful for a brief period of time,” Lukaszewski said.
Of course, Dr. Palmer is not the first to face digital wrath. In 2013, Justine Sacco tweeted before she got on a plane: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!” By the time she landed, she was the number-one trend on twitter. In the fallout of the tweet she lost her job, but a couple years later, she has one again and tries to stay private.
In another case involving big game hunting, Rebecca Francis told New York Magazine she became “the most hated woman in the world” in April of 2015 after comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted a picture of her having recently shot and killed a giraffe in Africa.
Lukaszewski has advised people and businesses in crisis for decades.
In his current predicament, Dr. Palmer has both in jeopardy -- with his personal reputation soiled in tweets and comments, and his dental office in yelp reviews. Lukaszewski stresses the key to stopping the virtual stampede is a sincere apology.
“I define an apology as the atomic energy of empathy. Because when you apologize, things actually stop,” Lukaszwski said.
Palmer has released two statements, one to the public and one to his patients, but Lukaszewski says Palmer's original statement, in which he put most of the blame on his guides, did not go far enough.
“Apologies to be effective have to be unconditional. I didn't look at the letter as an apology. It was an explanation with some caveats in it. And he's shifting blame to all sorts of people.
However, Lukaszewski says Palmer, and his dental practice can survive this, but that will require prompt action.
“What puts companies out of business is not the act itself, but how they respond to it.”