Let me see if I can follow the train of events here.
- Last week, Donald Trump posted a gif that someone had made of him “beating” a guy at a wrestling event as part of the act. They had put CNN’s logo over the face of the other actor so it appeared as though Trump were beating down CNN. This was kind of stupid.
- The media, of course, gave it non-stop coverage to the detriment of major news stories such as North Korea’s missile test, the G20 summit and the AHCA debate. Some called it a threat of violence although it was clearly, in a legal sense, no such thing. This was really stupid.
- It was then discovered that the gif came from a thread on Reddit, the human sewer of the internet. That the Trump team is plumbing the depths of Reddit for tweets by the President of the United States is incredibly stupid.
- CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski then decided to track down the person who made the gif — a Reddit user by the name of HansAssholeSolo. Because apparently this was of interest to anyone. The user, fearing exposure, issued a groveling apology, saying that he was just shitposting and didn’t mean to offend anyone. This was unbelievably stupid from everyone.
- CNN’s report on Han ended in the note that it wasn’t revealing his identify because he was a private citizen and had apologized. According to them, the legal department then added the note, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.” Whatever the intention of that statement was, it crossed almost everyone who read it as a threat. This was not only monumentally stupid, but kind of evil.
The internet erupted over that last line and for very good reason. It’s horrible that people feel the need to go on the internet and be bigoted trolls. But the punishment in this case — doxxing the user — would be massively out of proportion to the crime. Being exposed for putting bad or controversial stuff on the internet can ruin someone’s life. They lose jobs, they get threats, they get harassment. It is the Sword of Damocles that hangs over all of us who comment on blogs, Twitter or even Facebook. I’ve been lucky so far but have often thought of quitting this whole shebang out of the fear that some poorly phrased tweet or ill-considered post could destroy my life.
For CNN to even hint at this was, well …
So the human being behind the ridiculous pseudonym HanA**holeSolo should cringe for the rest of his life and never publish anything that CNN could possibly deem “bigoted” or “racist” because it would trigger CNN’s delusional duty to destroy him.
This person is a nonentity. We shouldn’t even have heard about him in the first place. Who cares who originally posted the video clip of the CNN logo stuck on the face of the guy Trump was wrestling?
Ken White, in a really great post looking at the whole phenomenon of internet rage:
I found this alarming and ugly. CNN should publish the name or not publish the name. For CNN to tell him what he should or shouldn’t say in the future, and threaten him that they will reveal his name in the future if they don’t like his speech, does not make them sound like journalists. It makes them sound like avenging advocates, and lends substantial credibility to the argument that they pursued him because he posted a GIF about them. I don’t know what they actually intended — they’ve denied intent to threaten and claim this was only to clarify that there was no agreement. If so, that could have been conveyed much less like a threat. However they meant it, this is reasonably interpreted as a warning that the Redditor must speak only as approved by CNN or suffer for it. That’s grotesque. Legal, but grotesque.
German Lopez, with whom I rarely agree:
Personally, if I reported this story, it would have been pretty straightforward: “CNN is not publishing ‘HanAssholeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen.” Period. The rest of the information in that paragraph is unnecessary, because a media organization simply shouldn’t release a private citizen’s personal information. He shouldn’t have his private information threatened just because the president picked up one of his Reddit shitposts, which he made with the expectation that he would be kept anonymous. (Though it is a truly bizarre turn of events that it’s even possible to write this sentence.)
In journalism, there is a clear line between public and private figures. Public figures are held to a higher standard — since they represent not just themselves but their offices, their industries, and so on. But private figures are given a veil of privacy, since it’s not really in the public interest to get some random person’s private information.
The problem here is that the internet is not proportional. People wouldn’t merely react to this guy making some offensive remarks on the internet by making some offensive remarks to him. They would react as the internet has reacted before to these kinds of situations — with potentially thousands of hateful messages, death threats, attempts to get him fired, and harassment not just against him but also his family. Lines would quickly be crossed.
Our friend, Thrill:
First, there was no reason to track this Asshole guy down. None. He had nothing to do with the story, really. In fact, it’s even possible that CNN got the wrong guy. I can’t read that paragraph and see anything other than that CNN wanted contrition out of the guy, not a story. Again, the story shouldn’t have been about anything except Trump being a prick for posting the inflammatory .gif.
As for that last line, how can anyone see any other message other than, “If he posts anything like that again, naturally, we will reveal his name and ruin his life”? This guy is probably going to stay off the Internet for the rest of his life for fear that CNN will come after him again and set the SJW mob loose on his employer and family.
It’s gotten even stupider since then, with people threatening Kaczynski and even his parents, for some reason. Because apparently, no one can be a dick these days without someone saying, “Hold my beer.”
Almost everyone in this story is acting like a dick. The anonymous shitposter is a dick; Trump is a dick; CNN is a bag of dicks; the people threatening Kacyznski are dicks. And since it seems that being a dick is in fashion these days, I’ll go ahead and say I’m a dick, too. Last week, I wrote about the need for empathy in politics and said that it was a subset of a need for empathy in our society. This fiasco illustrates it perfectly. If anyone involved had taken just a second to think about what it would be like if they were on the receiving end of their action, the entire chain of bullshit would have been broken off.