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CNN Threatening To Dox An Anonymous Internet Person Is Dangerous

On July 4th, while most Americans scarfed down hotdogs, CNN’s KFILE was hard at work. The team led by Andrew Kaczynski plodded through Reddit forums and social media on the hunt for the elusive Internet troll who created that GIF of Trump body-slamming a CNN logo.

The GIF, tweeted by President Trump and the official @POTUS account, caused a near meltdown from media types who accused the president of promoting “violence” against journalists — CNN led the charge.

Finally, a breakthrough. The KFile sleuths identified the Redditor, HanAssholeSolo. According to CNN’s own account, they confronted him with his GIF — as well as a checked history of posting in the /The_Donald sub-reddit. The man offered an effusive apology for his actions and deleted all of his posts in the forum.

In a bit of Caesarian — thumbs up; thumbs down — judgement, Imperator Kaczynski was merciful, announcing his decision to withhold the man’s name. It came, however, with a very pointed warning.

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 reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

To put it in blunt terms… What the hell is this? Who made CNN the moderator of the Internet?

First of all, why is CNN dedicating resources to sniffing out a completely irrelevant Internet troll? Has peace broken out in Syria? Has health care been resolved? Obviously there were a host of other issues the network could have devoted its time to. The hunt for HanAssholeSolo reflects their larger obsession with Trumpian frivolity at the expense of real issues.

In a statement, CNN cited safety concerns in their decision to withhold HanAssholeSolo’s real name, despite their warning to him in the piece that they still might pull the trigger anyway should he continue with his previous behavior.

Safety be damned, the emperor brooks no second chances.

The whole seedy business also reflects CNN’s strangely solipsistic desire to play the victim and punish anyone involved in a tweet that makes them look bad. Network management would do well to remember the ultimate J-School basic: “You are not the story.”

The callous disregard for the safety of a powerless Internet rando would be bad enough by itself, but it’s worse still because CNN’s warning to HanAssholeSolo was really not directed to him at all, but to all of us.

Obviously HanAssholeSolo was not a paradigm of virtue and has trolled around the Internet with some pretty seedy, anti-Semitic stuff, but this isn’t about him. There is nothing inherently nefarious about publishing content online anonymously. It is certainly far more ethical than extensively relying on anonymous sources to drive news coverage.

Anyone familiar with Hamilton (the book) would know that our founding fathers often savaged each other in ferociously cutting terms under nom de plumes  — in many cases, a noteworthy Greek or Roman historical figure. They did this not because they were “trolling” anybody, but because sometimes anonymity is the only way to get at the truth (and keep your career intact.)

Now, before you even say it, an all caps reminder: I AM NOT COMPARING HANASSHOLESOLO TO THE FOUNDING FATHERS.

That being said, anonymity has a treasured place in the history of American discourse. Obviously in some cases, like people issuing threats, the veil must be lifted. But when in doubt, responsible news organization will always aim to err on the side of protecting privacy — as CNN religiously does for its sources.

Who among us is equipped to decide what speech can remain acceptably anonymous and what must be “exposed” in the bright shining light of day.

Today it’s HanAssholeSolo; tomorrow it could be you.

[image via screengrab]

Follow Jon Levine on Twitter / Facebook.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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