Gather round, kids, and let me tell you a story about a doofus on Reddit who posts under the name /u/HanAssholeSolo and another doofus on Twitter who posts under @RealDonaldTrump. Last week, HanAssholeSolo created a GIF out of some footage of Donald Trump at a wrestling match, replacing the head of Trump’s opponent with the CNN logo to, I guess, fully literalize a silly metaphor about Trump body-slamming CNN. The GIF was posted to Reddit’s infamous /r/The_Donald, where it likely would have remained, unseen by the vast majority of Americans, had Trump himself not tweeted it from his personal account on July 2. Let no one say the state of political discourse in this country is in any way diminished. (The Trump administration swears that the president didn’t get the clip from Reddit, despite there being no instances of the GIF existing anywhere other than Reddit. It wouldn’t be the first time Trump maybe, definitely, got his news from Reddit.)
The GIF, and the implication that the president was endorsing, or, at least, not condemning violence against journalists, was widely discussed over Independence Day weekend, because (1) journalists love stories where they themselves are the focus, (2) it was a slow weekend, and (3) it’s fucking crazy that the president is tweeting wrestling GIFs he stole from Reddit. Some journalists read through HanAssholeSolo’s posting history on Reddit and discovered many of his previous posts included “racist and anti-Semitic imagery” (which, hello, welcome to /r/The_Donald), but the story didn’t really heat up until the evening of July 4, when CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski — head of its new “KFILE” unit — published a piece detailing how he had tracked down the real-life identity of HanAssholeSolo. (But not identifying HanAssholeSolo by name in the piece itself — more on that in a moment.) In response, HanAssholeSolo, who didn’t respond to any of CNN’s attempts to contact him, deleted all of his previous posts and posted an apology on /r/The_Donald, which was later deleted by the subreddit’s moderators.
In the now-deleted apology — his Reddit account seems to have been fully deleted, too — HanAssholeSolo called the GIF “satire” and “a prank, nothing more.” “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,” the now-deleted apology read, according to CNN. “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.” (Whether you should take his apology seriously is another matter: “Holy shit!! I wake up and have my morning coffee and who retweets my shitpost but the MAGA EMPORER himself!!! I am honored!!” he posted to Reddit after discovering the president had tweeted his GIF. Does that sound like a guy who is sorry for spewing internet vitriol in the past, or a guy who is just sorry he got caught?)
In a just world, that would have been the end of “The Fable of the Doofuses and the Wrestling GIF.” (The moral of the fable is: Don’t make anti-Semitic posts on the internet because the president might one day steal your wrestling GIF for a tweet.) But we don’t live in a just world, and the wrestling GIF — and HanAssholeSolo — is tumbling through a new news cycle, given the alarming Twitter hashtag of “#CNNBlackmail.” Why? Well, read CNN’s piece:
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.
If the framing of the decision to maintain HanAssholeSolo’s anonymity seems odd to you, you’re not alone. CNN wants to keep his identity secret? Fine — but the moralistic, parental tone of the reasoning, combined with the oddly extortionate line about publishing his identity, makes the article sound less like news and more like an odd bit of internet vigilantism. If you don’t keep your nose clean, CNN could dox anytime they like, HanAssholeSolo, and don’t you forget it!
CNN could have probably avoided any of this simply by ending the article after the words “private citizen.” Instead, CNN’s choice to protect HanAssholeSolo, while hovering a second un-dropped shoe over his name, only seems to confirm what so many on the internet Trump Train already think about the mainstream media — that journalists are just a bunch of scoldy social-justice warriors out to get the poor little internet Nazi.
There’s plenty of precedent for identifying Reddit trolls by name — and some defensible reasons for not doing so. Personally, when the internet has become this choked with toxicity and abuse, I’m not inclined to be sympathetic to the special pleadings of people who spend their time shitposting on Reddit. But CNN is welcome to make the opposite call. It’s just that playing disciplinarian accomplishes nothing for either the reader or the subject.