Going Ape Online


When I first entered the courtroom I had no idea of the events that were about to unfold. I didn’t know I’d be there for around six weeks, listening to dozens of people being questioned by prosecution and defence lawyers.

It was several years ago and I’d been chosen to serve on the jury of a criminal case. The case was estimated to run for a couple of weeks but one and a half months later we finally ‘retired to consider a verdict’.

It was only after all the twists and turns of the evidence, direction from the judge, copious legal arguments and much more along the way that we were ready to consider all that we’d seen and heard and then deliver a verdict on each of the charges. It still took the twelve of us many hours to finally agree. That process involved reviewing the case, including expert evidence, and discussing various points together to ensure justice for everyone involved in the case.

What fascinated me at the time was the media reporting. I had no doubt that people would have been making up their own minds on the case based on the occasional 90 second television reports and the two or three hundred word reports in the paper. We had heard countless hours of in depth evidence, they had seen a 90 second report. How could they make a solid decision on such a small amount of evidence? Quite obviously they couldn’t.

Everyone’s Going Ape

Over the past week we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people making grand statements online and in the media about the sad case of Harambe the gorilla and the four year old child who found his way into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo.

Since Harambe was shot dead and the child was rescued we’ve heard and seen endless commentary about everything from bad parenting to inadequate infrastructure at the zoo. We’ve been told who’s at fault and even had people suggesting that the gorilla’s life was more important than the child’s. All this from people who weren’t there and only had brief media reports to rely upon when forming their opinion.

I won’t say who I think was at fault because I really don’t have enough evidence to know, but that obviously hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, being quite convinced they know enough to confidently assert their opinion and that their opinion should be the final word on the matter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against developing a conversation and seeking the facts to understand more about what happened but that’s a million miles away from taking on the job of judge, jury and executioner based on media reports.

Whether it’s a major news story or simply a fun YouTube video, our unlimited access to various forms of social media has given us unprecedented opportunity to share our opinions and the fact that most of those opinions aren’t supported by the facts doesn’t seem to trouble anyone. This isn’t just about Harambe’s story, this is about every single thing that finds it’s way online. This is about people using social media to constantly tear down others rather than building them up and offering help in times of need.

Whenever someone publishes anything online you can almost guarantee a barrage of comments that range between sycophantic worship and death threats. Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the reasoned discussion?

We’ve lost the ability to display compassion and empathy.

Many seem to forget that those involved in the stories they pronounce their opinions on are real people who are very likely to read those comments and suffer from the words of those who don’t know or care to understand the wider story.

When we cross the line, when we mess up and get it wrong, we hope that others will take into account what brought us to that point, not to excuse our behaviour but to understand it, and then that they’ll offer forgiveness. Why are we so unprepared to offer that to others? Why are we so quick to pass judgement on those we don’t even know? Why do we feel such a strong desire to vilify others publicly without knowing their story?

Sadly, as well as causing untold damage to those who are targeted, those making comments can end up looking foolish and uninformed. It would be better for many to simply remain silent.

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent. – Proverbs 17:28

Social media has given us an incredible platform to share our stories and our humanness but we shouldn’t take it lightly and we shouldn’t simply use it as an opportunity to bring others down. None of us ever know what lies around the corner for us but whatever it is, I hope that there’ll still be people ready to offer words that heal rather than words that tear down.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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  • I have stayed out of this fray for a reason: I have nothing to add or perspective to give which hasn’t already been given ad infinitum ad nauseum. I am also a refrainer from social media. I have no desire to get into that mess either. Glad you have taken it beyond the hype (pro and con) and focused on what matter.

  • Well said. The only thing I will add is that it’s a sign when we live in a fallen world when a gorilla’s life is deemed more sacred than a human’s.

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