Four months ago, Michelle Gregg’s child fell into a gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati, and the internet spiraled into a frenzy over Harambe, the gorilla shot and killed in order to protect the child. The memes started as a form of outrage and commentary. Mrs. Gregg let her child wander off, and Harambe could hardly be blamed for acting like a gorilla. On the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Facebook page, the zoo explains that “According to a CFD incident report, the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child.” The zoo’s security team chose to kill the gorilla rather than tranquilize him, which might have taken up to ten minutes to take effect. Many people blame the zoo and Mrs. Gregg for Harambe’s death, and so project their anger into memes that are often satirical, sometimes political and have now officially turned the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s social media into, well, a zoo.
The zoo, Harambe’s home for the past year, closed their Twitter account after it was hacked and later spammed by messages bemoaning the late Harambe on every posting. The Facebook was overrun by spam as well, although the official account is still available. Memes are all good and well, but this is disrespectful. The marketing branch of the zoo now has to contend with a sharp drop in available spaces to advertise and interact with the public. Parents can no longer check their Twitter to see half-priced ticket days or other promotions. Children following the zoo can no longer learn fun facts about animals, which the zoo provided on both platforms.
All of this is added to the pain of zoo workers who knew and interacted with Harambe. Any family that has lost a pet can tell you that losing an animal is a deeply emotional experience. The internet, instead of acknowledging people’s grief, made Harambe a meme and shot down a chance for the Cincinnati Zoo to continue to reach out to the community and communicate in personal and meaningful ways.
One way to respect the zoo, Harambe, and the community that loved them is to be aware of where you post content. Think to yourself, “Am I writing about Harambe through a medium that will detract from the purpose of that medium?” No? Congratulations! You are not currently part of the problem! Memes are a fun, hip way to express humor, outrage, grief, or anything else easily understood by others. No one wants to take them away from you. Posters that spam a social media account, however, are aware of exactly where they are posting. There’s an endless amount of internet that is not specifically focused on the Cincinnati Zoo. Consider sharing emotional and political expressions there.
Trolls no longer hide under bridges. They will always be there to infuriate and complicate digital communication, but it is also worthwhile to consider what we can do to make the internet a less stressful place. Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter do not currently offer easy comment moderation. Many websites allow users to choose to approve or disapprove individual comments with a single click before they show up to the public. To suggest this change, you can click “Report a Problem” on Facebook, then select “General Feedback;” on Twitter, finding a feedback button is nearly impossible. However, you can report spam by going to the Help Center, then Policy, then Our Policies, then Report Spam.