On July 4th, a day which millions of Americans celebrate their nation’s independence, CNN released a story that would go on to receive significant backlash in the night to come.
The story, titled, “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF,” detailed how CNN tracked down the Reddit user responsible for a GIF which President Trump posted on Sunday.
The GIF, which shows President Trump beating a man with the CNN insignia over his face in a WWE setting, sparked outrage amongst several of those on social media. Various individuals, groups, and personalities claimed that the President’s tweet encouraged violence against journalists, while others argued that it was merely satire. Regardless, it would appear that CNN took this attack more personally than most, as they tracked down the Reddit user who initially made the GIF.
In the controversial article, CNN details how they found the notorious Reddit user, “HanAssHoleSolo.” Throughout the piece, CNN reports on the user’s profuse apologies for both the GIF and the user’s other bigoted posts, which ranged from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia.
A day after being contacted by CNN, the user issued a long apology on the /The_Donald subreddit. To paraphrase, the anonymous individual apologized for all of his past bigoted memes and posts, along with the drama his GIF caused. The man went on to state that he had “the highest respect for the journalist community…”
In the end, despite knowing the user’s identity, CNN ultimately decided they would not make such information public. In the article, Kaczynski wrote, “CNN is not publishing ‘HanAssholeSolo’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.”
However, the true controversy over the article occurred over the statement proceeding this.
Andrew Kaczynski, the author of the piece, then wrote, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Some are claiming that CNN blackmailed this Reddit user into giving an apology, there is no concrete proof of such (yet), despite claims.
However, it is clear that CNN blackmailed on one front. If this Reddit user were to insult CNN again, or if he were to go back to his life of bigoted ‘memeing,’ it is plausible to say that CNN would likely release his name to the public.
According to 18 U.S. Code § 873- Blackmail, “Whoever, under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, against any violation of any law of the United States, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
In laymen’s terms, Blackmail is threatening to reveal legal information in exchange for money, property, or something of value. That valuable something could very well be considered a promise to no longer be a bigot and insult CNN. Essentially, his future actions are being restricted due to information being held over his head.
There have been reports coming from the alt-right, white nationalist HUB /pol/ that the Reddit user is not a man, but a fifteen-year-old boy. This information is unverified and has been rejected by Kaczynski, who stated on Twitter that “HanAssholeSolo is a middle-aged man. People claiming he’s 15 are wrong.”
In a statement from CNN, they stated that they, “decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false.”
However, it would seem as if individuals and legal experts such as Ben Shapiro would tend to disagree on the blackmail front. On the other front, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has cited two state laws on social media which he believes CNN has possibly broken. Those laws are the following:
1. GA § 16-8-16 – Theft by extortion – Since CNN is based in Atlanta, they could very well suffer the ramifications of this state law. The part of the law which Senator Cruz asserts it is possible they broke is; “A person commits the offense of theft by extortion when he unlawfully obtains property of or from another person by threatening to… Disseminate any information tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule or to impair his credit or business repute.”
According to Senator Cruz, if CNN “constructively obtained the gif-maker’s IP, it’s a GA crime if they threatened to ‘Disseminate any information tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule…’”
2. NY § 135.60 – Coercion in the second degree – This all depends on what state the crime was committed in, but the part of the law Senator Cruz says that CNN could have broken states (Directly quoted from Senator Cruz), “‘A person is guilty of coercion in the second degree when he induces a person to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he…has a legal right to engage…by means of instilling…a fear…the actor will expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule.’”
In all likelihood, CNN will face no legal ramifications for any of this. In order to prove someone broke these laws, you must be able to prove intent, which is extremely difficult.