cecil the lion cecil the lion’s hunter faces major backlash online (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathiasappel/)

By now, you’ve surely heard of Walter Palmer. He’s the Minnesota dentist who is believed to have killed Cecil the lion, one of Zimbabwe’s most beloved and famous lions. He paid more than $50,000 for the hunt, which involved luring the animal out of the protected sanctuary, and then shooting it with a bow and arrow. The lion is saidd to have lived for at least 40 hours before he died. Park officials found his skinless, headless body — but not before Palmer took a photo of himself with the lion.

The killing of this lion who was loved by so many has really struck a chord, and those who do not agree with Palmer’s actions have come out swinging — and his reputation, both online and in his dental practice, has taken a catastrophic hit.

Palmer’s personal information including information about his family and dental practice were published. Web users went after his practice on Yelp, Facebook, and Google+, leaving thousands of negative reviews.

Some of the Yelp reviews hit pretty hard:

I needed a tooth extracted, so Dr. Palmer shot me in the neck with a crossbow, chased and tracked me for 40 hours, and (once I collapsed from pain and exhaustion) removed my entire head and skinned me.

Best part, they accept my insurance!!

The best dentist ever! He is friendly, courteous and quick to respond to my calls about assassinating a lion for no reason.

he used medicare and medicaid money to fund his shenanigans — but that’s ok. Killing for fun is amazing.

Truth: If you patronize Palmer’s Dentristry, you help finance the sadistic killing of innocent animals by a sick degenerate.

Also truth: Yelp is apparently in the business of protecting people like this from well-deserved criticism by pulling tons of outraged comments like mine. I wonder who is working overtime to undo exactly what this service is supposed to do: reflect people’s opinions on whether a business is worth patronizing. Or has Palmer paid Yelp another $55,000 in damage control? How can we trust a “review site” that practices censorship? Shame on you, too, Yelp!

As for your policy to pull negative reviews of businesses as soon as they “make headlines”…
To me that translates as follows: “If you suck just a little, we’ll let the negative reviews stand–but if your ethics are so perverted or non-existent that they garner international media attention… hey, Yelp will help ease all that terrible pressure you’ve come under by deleting the nasty things people are saying about you.”

In other words, if you’re a restaurant and your food just tastes a bit lousy, we’ll let your customers vent here. But if you spread botulism, and a bunch of diners croak from food poisoning, and the whole thing makes the papers… Yelp doesn’t want to be involved in spreading the word. Bad for business, y’know.

Because Yelp is a tool–but not one in the hands of people who want to read or write truth.

Yelp has deleted many comments citing the website’s policy on false reviews, but more just keep coming. Some posts include threats of violence against the dentist. Documents detailing a sexual harassment claim and guilty plea involving a false statement to U.S. wildlife officials in reference to a black bear killing have also been unearthed following the scandal.

A local crisis management expert, Jon Austin, was helping Palmer for a time to circulate Palmer’s initial statement, but he is no longer working with him. Austin’s Yelp page has also been hit by a mob of angry commenters.

The backlash has not just been online: protests and signs are outside of his office. With so much backlash, Palmer has shuttered his dental office and referred urgent patients to other dentists. Local news outlets have already questioned whether Palmer’s career is now over.

And while the reviews and social media posts may eventually be deleted or fade away, and Palmer may attempt to open the practice doors once again, he will never be able to shake the countless articles written about the lion killing and the events following it. These articles will never go away: any time Walter Palmer’s name, or his business River Bluff Dental, are searched for on Google, users will see what happened, even if he is able to bounce back and improve his reputation. His reputation has taken a serious hit.

Palmer does not seem to be handling the backlash very well. A Twitter account for his dental practice has seriously questionable tweets that poke fun at the situation — and head into dangerous territory by comparing Cecil the lion’s killing to that of the lives of black humans:

Palmer is now in contact with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through a representative, and may be extradited to Zimbabwe to face criminal charges.

How Your Personal Life Influences Your Professional Life

Palmer isn’t the only high profile example of a tarnished professional reputation due to personal actions. Former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky led to his impeachment. And Fox Business points out that Harry Stonecipher and Mark Hurd, both former CEOs (of Boeing and Hewlett-Packard, respectively) resigned after alleged relationships with subordinates were revealed.

Even lower level professionals are at risk of having their professional lifes disrupted by what they’ve done outside of work: Sarah Tressler was fired from her job at the Houston Chronicle after it was revealed that she moonlighted as a stripper.

This isn’t exclusive to big business, either: startup CEOs and employees are at risk of losing respect as a professional due to personal actions, even actions that they’ve put behind them years ago. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO, faced serious professional reputation backlash when offensive emails from his college days in a fraternity were exposed.

There is an endless list of more examples of professionals who have lost their jobs or otherwise experienced serious blows to their reputations following personal misgivings: waitresses, teachers, and more.

Is it fair that your personal life can have such a serious influence on your professional life? Not necessarily. It’s especially chilling how swift and damaging mob justice can be. But like it or not, that’s simply how it is today. Whether you’re engaging in questionable vacation activities or just trying to forget a few regrettable things you said in college, the fact is that it may come back to haunt you, and it can hurt your career.

It’s a good idea to carefully consider your actions and how they will reflect on your reputation both personally and professionally. And at the very least, it’s smart to keep questionable activities private: do not post about them on social media, and do not allow photographs to be taken or distributed, particularly online. We’ve seen that the fervor for Palmer has only grown worse as the photo of him with the dead lion has been posted online.

As for Palmer, it remains to be seen how his reputation will fare following this scandal. If he is cooperative, apologizes publicly, and resolves his criminal charges in Zimbabwe, he may be able to bounce back and restore some of his reputation. We will be watching to see how Palmer handles this situation — and how the Internet reacts.