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This article was published on July 5, 2017

Is #CNNBlackMail fake news? [Updated]

Is #CNNBlackMail fake news? [Updated] Image by: Gage Skidmore
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

While most of us in America were celebrating Independence Day, CNN investigators were busy tracking down the creator of a meme. CNN’s KFILE investigation team found the Reddit user responsible for taking an old wrestling clip and turning it into a controversial statement on how the President feels about mainstream media:

Andrew Kaczynski of CNN published the article yesterday detailing how KFILE tracked down the creator of the controversial meme. CNN chose only to reveal the individual’s Reddit user name, leaving his identity secret.

The trending topic #CNNBLACKMAIL began to circulate on Twitter shortly after Kaczynski published the story — the accusation being that CNN tracked down a 15-year-old boy and threatened to reveal his name to the world if he ever went after the news network again.

Even Donald Trump Jr. joined in to show his disgust:

The problem? The Reddit user responsible, HanAssholeSolo, whose name CNN chose not to reveal, isn’t a child.

HanAssholeSolo is a middle-aged man who wants us to believe he is genuinely sorry for what he’s done. He wrote on Reddit:

First of all, I would like to apologize to the members of the Reddit community for getting this site and this sub embroiled in a controversy that should never have happened.I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-semitic. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life. I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on Reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts. I would never support any kind of violence or actions against others simply for what they believe in, their religion, or the lifestyle they choose to have. Nor would I carry out any violence against anyone based upon that or support anyone who did.

The blackmail allegations came because CNN, in its article, said the following:

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.

CNN has stated repeatedly it had no intention of threatening or blackmailing the individual responsible. It did, however, use language that seems to suggest otherwise. In the story, CNN made the following statement: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Comments aside, the man reportedly didn’t feel threatened.

To recap, the two sides to this story lead us to believe either CNN threatened the right to free speech of a private citizen, or the company was simply reporting news while maintaining the anonymity of its source.

HanAssholeSolo also appears to agree with CNN on the intent of the meme. The White House believes no one would perceive the President’s tweet as a threat, but the original creator of the meme doesn’t share that opinion:

I think they should have used their better judgment, since the President tweets things off the cuff, it’s a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t feel that they should have posted something like that given the controversy going on between them and the media.

The controversy surrounding the CNN article is nothing new. The President frequently states he believes CNN is a producer of fake or fraudulent news.

The idea that the First Amendment — which guarantees freedom of the press as well — should protect owners of social media accounts from being associated with the things they say on them is a difficult one to swallow. Such an interpretation requires us to imagine the American government being so influenced by CNN’s article that it fined or imprisoned the person behind HanAssholeSolo’s Reddit account.

Edit: Added further clarification and comment from CNN.

Note from the author: In a previous version the last part of CNN’s quote was missing. My intent was never to partially quote the original CNN article, it was a mistake on my part to leave out the sentence following the paragraph I quoted. The accidental omission led to commenters misunderstanding my opinion in this article.

My position in writing my article was never to make it appear as though CNN didn’t make a statement they obviously made, nor did I intend to draw any attention away from that fact. My intent was to point out that CNN did not track down a child and threaten to expose them. I understand that the detail regarding CNN stating they reserve the right to expose the adult who allegedly created the meme is at the crux of the hashtag. I maintain the opinions expressed in the article, and am grateful the editorial staff was able to correct this oversight.