A Note on CNN and Trump’s Wrestling Video Meme Creator

From the ADL:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today released an analysis on Reddit user, Han——-Solo, who is claiming credit for President Trump’s use of a wrestling video Sunday morning featuring a CNN logo.

…For more than a year, this Reddit user has violated the platform’s terms of service by posting the type of hate against Muslims, African-Americans, Jews and others that has become all too common both online and offline, according to ADL’s analysis, available here. In fact, the individual posted an image collage of CNN journalists and employees labeling them with a Star of David and writing, “Something strange about CNN…can’t quite put my finger on it…”

HanAssHoleSolo’s authorship of the Trump-CNN wrestling meme was discovered by the journalist Jared Yates Sexton, who also drew attention to his other works. As result, Sexton has been abused and subjected to death threats.

Anyone who uses Twitter to communicate with the public is likely to have Tweeted or Re-Tweeted memes or comments without researching where they have come from. In some cases, this may have meant unwittingly validating someone with a malign agenda. Often, the disseminator is blameless, although in some cases there is negligence, or worse.

It’s unlikely that whoever brought the wrestling gif to Trump’s personal attention wanted to raise the profile of HanAssHoleSolo, but it is reasonable to wonder whether this person was ignorant of his other work or rather decided that it wasn’t important. Either way, the incident shows how the erratic and undiscerning curator of the world’s most powerful social media presence is using his platform to elevate the creations of individuals who would be better left in obscurity. That in itself is a story.

This point has perhaps been overlooked in the subsequent furore over whether CNN supposedly “blackmailed” HanAssHoleSolo once its journalist Andrew Kaczynski tracked down his real-world identity. The controversial section of CNN’s reporting has been widely quoted:

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.

Apparently, that last sentence was a bit of legalese added by executives, although Kaczynski is receiving threats about it. It has been interpreted to mean that CNN will name the man (who is middle-aged, and not a “15-year-old boy”, as in some reports) if he satirises CNN again; those promoting this understanding include Trump’s unprepossessing son, Donald Trump Jnr. It would be more reasonable, though, to take it to mean that CNN is not tying its hands if it turns out that “HanAssHoleSolo” has given a false assurance to deflect scrutiny.

The difficulty, though, is that it also means that CNN is not just reporting the news, but explicitly telling an actor in the news how he can control what is written about him by complying with certain standards of behaviour. That’s undesirable in principle, although given the context here it’s at the very thinnest end of the wedge.

A simple alternative would have been for CNN simply to have named the man. A favourite slogan of the right of late is that “actions have consequences”, and those who use social media to rail against Jews and black people from behind “the coward’s cloak of anonymity” have no right to not be exposed for it. The fact that CNN finds itself accused of blackmail for withholding information out of concern for the man’s safety and prospects is an example of no good deed going unpunished.