Media outlet CNN is facing a backlash after purportedly tracking down a Reddit user who posted an altered GIF of Donald Trump fighting a reporter.
A reporter for the network is said to have uncovered the identity of the user – known as Reddit as HanAssholeSolo – after breaking the story last week.
CNN said it wouldn’t reveal the man’s real name, as he’d issued an extensive and public apology for creating and posting the GIF.
The animated file sent shockwaves around the Internet. Featuring a short spurt of footage from Donald Trump at a WWE event, the Redditor imposed the CNN logo over the face of the opponent the businessman was tackling at an event.
Perhaps not surprisingly, CNN took almost immediate issue with the GIF, which was posted on Twitter first by Donald Trump’s personal account and then again by the official @POTUS channel. The network brought in and interviewed communications experts, who decried the attempt at humor as being both in bad taste and as an attack on the press.
Many of Trump’s conservative followers and proponents didn’t take offense to what has now become an Internet meme, saying it was all done in good humor.
The president and his advocates have long accused media outlets like CNN – as well as The New York Times and countless others – as being propagators of ‘fake news.’ They say the GIF was simply a Trump fan’s reaction to perceived biased and unfair press.
Nevertheless, following an intensive CNN investigation, ‘HanAssholeSolo’ issued a public apology.
“The meme was created purely as satire, it was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation,” the Redditor wrote. “I had no idea anyone would take it and put sound to it and then have it put up on the President’s Twitter feed. It was a prank, nothing more.”
I can't emphasize how bad this is on CNN's part. This is basically "don't post stuff we don't like or we'll dox you." Extremely unethical. pic.twitter.com/5bJZIZasH0
— German Lopez (@germanrlopez) July 5, 2017
In response, CNN wrote that it “reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
New York Post columnist John Podhoretz wrote that CNN’s response was disproportionate and perhaps somewhat uncalled for.
“I don’t think CNN did anything wrong in tracking down and reporting on the Reddit guy,” wrote Podhoretz. “But the ‘we reserve’ sentence was a colossal mistake.”
Other journalists and critics voiced their agreement on Twitter, saying the network’s words and actions were akin to social media blackmail.
The reporter behind the Redditor’s unmasking, Andrew Kaczynski, defended himself by explaining that ‘HanAssholeSolo’ had issued an apology before ever being contacted.
He also went on to describe how the same user had a long history of posting racist and anti-Semitic remarks on Reddit, including doctored images which show CNN reports with the Jewish Star of David floating alongside their faces.
Reddit, among the most popular websites online, is no stranger to controversy – its semi-anonymous feature engenders a degree of intolerance, often crafted into vaguely or overtly offensive memes by some of its more politically incorrect users.