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Don't Do What Joe Exotic Did!

What Tiger King teaches us about social media

Tiger King Joe Exotic not only caged his big cats and lashed them into submission. He whipped all of us into shape via social media and made us his captive.

Joe was isolated and trapped, just like the hundreds of animals that he fawned over, and found his social circle online. He became captivated by the adoration of his so-called "fans" and believed that these were the only people who truly loved him for who he was. After the success of the documentary, Exotic has acquired thousands more fans, including American rapper Cardi B who claimed she wanted to help free him from prison. This is a man who is clearly unstable achieving celebrity status - is there something not quite toxic about this?

People are constantly pleading for kindness online, especially after the death of British television presenter Caroline Flack where social media was condemned for its harassment and bullying. Just recently, American actress Lili Reinhart took to Twitter to rant about bullying online, saying: "Twitter is such a vile place. You want to feel validated or important. Attacking someone online won't give that to you". Reinhart's words reflect Exotic's actions - he threatened and attacked Carole Baskin online because he wanted to feel validated and important. But just because you want to reach some feeling of validation, it doesn't mean you can vilify a person for your own personal gain.

If we want to change how people behave on the internet, we cannot support the destructive people who terrorise and intimidate others without even considering how this affects the other party involved. Joe Exotic is a prime example of someone who was provided with an outlet of power online and used it for the completely wrong reasons. There are a number of 'Joe Exotics' in this world (I like to think there is one living in the White House) and we all need to do work to change how we approach our online persona. I hope that through Tiger King, we have seen how a person should not act when given a platform to inspire others and continue to uplift those who are working hard to transform the internet and social media in a positive way.

In the documentary, we got to see how even a man such as Joe Exotic enjoys and depends upon social media. He freely broadcast and plastered himself over as many platforms as he could without realising the inevitable consequences. It became an obsession, proving that anybody can fall victim to the inescapable necessity of social media. On his daily internet show, Exotic broadcast his pure hatred for Baskin - something that he certainly wasn't shy about. Exotic also wasn't fearful about sharing his opinion of Carole on his own Facebook page, in which he had thousands of followers.

Joe spent far too much time online and I believe it's because he was lonely. We know that both of his husbands didn't love him, he lost his brother at a young age, and his only real companions were the people on his workforce. A study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that those who spend the most time on social media were twice as likely to report experiencing social isolation. Joe was a homosexual, redneck zookeeper stuck in the middle of one of the most conservative states in America - of course he was socially isolated!

Media theorists explain how the internet allows us to portray a constructed persona of someone we aspire to be like and that we can find our "tribe" online. Exotic found his tribe of mad followers and he became their king. With that power, he acquired a God complex through his alleged fame online and inevitably became his own worst enemy without realising it. Years of harassment and slander on his internet show and social media, which he believed was clever, became foolish quickly when it worked as the evidence for his own trial. It proves that anything you say or post on the internet can come back to haunt you.

According to Mashable, three billion people use social media, and the Global Web Index suggests that we spend an average of two hours a day updating our online profiles. We use social media for a number of reasons. The simplest is that we want to share our lives with people we don't get to see too often or share our opinions with others across the world. But we also use social media as a coping mechanism: to vent about the things that we don't like or to find support when we feel lonely or at our lowest point. Our relationship with it is intimate and addictive. We all have opposing viewpoints so social media can never be a place of peace and tranquillity. Mediums like Twitter and Facebook encourage discussion but when this discussion goes too far, that's when people can get hurt. If anything, the ongoing conflict between Exotic and Baskin should act as a prime example of how not to behave on social media because both parties were hurt in the process.

On the surface, Tiger King appeared compelling, illustrating the untold history between big cat collectors and conservationists in the US. My biggest complaint about the documentary though, despite the glorification of a social media maniac, is that it glamourizes and glazes over the huge issues of big cats and primates in captivity in America. This is seriously something that the United States government needs to think about. Even though Carole Baskin isn't the perfect poster girl for animal rights activism, she appears to be working hard to ensure that the number of big cats being purchased and neglected for personal use reaches zero. I am hopeful that this documentary will spark some change and that people will bypass the madness of Tiger King to recognise the shocking matter at hand and spark some element of change.

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