CNN is facing a backlash online after the network appeared to threaten to reveal the identity of the amateur artist responsible for this week’s “Trump Wrestlemania” meme.
In its report on tracking down the meme artist, CNN revealed it would not reveal his identity “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.”
“CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
It’s that last sentence that caught everyone’s attention. Many now claim CNN is blackmailing a private citizen by threatening to ‘dox’ him should he misbehave online again.
For a while, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail was a trending topic on Twitter.
A multi-billion dollar TV network blackmailing a private citizen into not making funny videos about it is not journalism, CNN. #CNNBlackmail
— Defend Assange Campaign (@DefendAssange) July 5, 2017
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 5, 2017
The Meme That Trump Tweeted
The meme in question used old footage of President Donald Trump at a Wrestlemania event, where he “bodyslams” and pretend-punches WWE CEO Vince McMahon. It gained worldwide fame this week when Trump tweeted an animated GIF version with McMahon’s head replaced with the CNN logo. It reportedly first appeared on Reddit’s controversial /r/The_Donald subreddit.
Trump has previously called CNN out as “fake news” at press conferences, and the animosity between the president and sections of the news media is well documented.
CNN has sought to make the most of taking offense at the meme — the likes of which appear hundreds of times a day on social media.
Some media outlets expressed outrage and hurt at the meme, saying it was “inciting violence” against reporters. The U.K. Independent published an editorial with the headline “Don’t laugh at Donald Trump sharing that CNN wrestling video: at its core it is violent, frightening and wrong”.
CNN Investigates Meme Creator’s Background
“As offensive as it was in itself, there are serious questions about the origins of that wrestling video,” said presenter Jim Sciutto in a video accompanying its report.
Taking the matter extremely seriously, reporter Tom Foreman said the meme could only have come from Reddit, in which case “a whole bunch of new questions about racism, bigotry and violence come into play”.
After Reddit user “HanAssholeSolo” outed himself as the creator of the CNN meme, reporters began to trawl through his other posts and found them to be “racist and anti-Semitic”.
CNN then cross-referenced personal details HanAssholeSolo had posted on Reddit with Facebook searches and found their man.
CNN claimed HanAssholeSolo apologized after it reached out to him, but later clarified that to “before”. This could make a difference to the blackmail claims — which Twitter also noticed.
Two posts from CNN KFILE senior editor Andrew Kaczynski appeared to contradict each other. However it’s possible Kaczynski is referring to two separate apologies — one posted to Reddit, and a later one in a conversation with CNN.
Reddit’s /r/The_Donald is an extremely Trump-friendly online hangout. While it caters mainly to news, some of its posters appear to belong to the “alt-right” movement which specializes in deliberately snarky and offensive internet content.
The Fallout: Much Internet Drama
And because this is the internet, there is now a proliferation of new animated memes showing more violence against “CNN logo head” and comparing the network to terrorists.
Whether the memes really do promote violence against the media or simply express frustration at its practices is a matter of personal opinion. One thing is for certain — Trump, Twitter, Reddit and internet memes are set to dominate the mainstream media news cycle once again.
Were CNN’s action’s justified? How harmful (or harmless) are internet memes really? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Images via Twitter, CNN