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CNN's Doxxing Illustrates Internet Illiteracy, Ineptitude

By now, I would assume that most folks are sick and tired of hearing about the ins-and-outs of CNN’s doxxing escapades. I sure am. But as much as I tried to ignore this “story” and write it off as a silly footnote of our current political moment, I couldn’t help but feel that there’s probably a little more to it than that, and I therefore couldn’t resist weighing in.

As a member of a generation that has come of age in near lockstep with the Information Age, incidents such as this are a firm reminder that even in an time in which grandma is on Facebook and we all have relative supercomputers with access to the sum of human knowledge in our pockets, the general population and (more to the point) traditional media simply do not understand internet culture or its reflection and projection on the real world.

It should first be said that CNN was well within its rights to do what it did. (There is some evidence that it may have been in violation of Georgia state law, but I think that remains to be seen.) As a private company, CNN can pursue any leads it wishes and expose any individuals it wishes in the course of its investigative reporting. But it occurs to me that this whole mess is a matter of “should they?” rather than one of “could they?” In my estimation, the answer to the former question is “definitely not.” This was a childish, quibbling use of CNN’s resources that provided no valuable service or information to the American citizen and was possibly illegal. They even might’ve threatened to expose the wrong guy.

As I am serially fond of quipping, “context matters.” Considering some contextual elements of the CNN doxxing case is instructive of the futility and misguidedness of their actions.

First, it’s important to realize that CNN only initially cared to venture down this rabbit hole because their brand and their honor had been slighted by the current presidential administration. The organization could’ve taken the high road, writing off the president’s remarks as “the cost of speaking truth to power” or deployed some similar self-righteous, sanctimonious rationalization and moved on with the job of reporting the news. It seems they felt justified rationalizing in other ways.

The notion that the news channel wished to defend themselves and their brand, plain and simple, does not seem to be a satisfactory explanation for their behavior. At one point or another, CNN offered two other explanations for their actions: first, that they saw the president’s tweet as a frontal assault by the Executive on the media which could not be allowed to stand. Alternatively (or perhaps simultaneously), CNN genuinely believed the tweet was an attempt by an internet troll to incite real-world violence against the media, something that must be prevented at all costs.

The perniciousness of the Executive waging open rhetorical war on the media is well taken, but in this particular case, who cares? The general silliness, debaucherous commentary, and abuse of The Donald’s twitter account while both in and out of public office is well-established and nauseatingly over-reported. CNN leads with the latest exploits out of @realDonaldTrump on what seems like a daily basis. This is different because CNN’s logo was superimposed on a pro wrestler’s pummeled body? Please. A silly GIF of reimagined performance art does not a dictatorship make.

What about the idea that the widespread dissemination of a GIF such as this is directly inciting real-world violence against media companies and their operatives? That strikes me as laughable on its face. Moreover, it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding (or willful ignorance) of internet culture. People post things like this all the time. Is CNN familiar with the concept of a “meme”? You know what “memes” I used to really enjoy that are very similar to this GIF? Political cartoons. You know, the ones printed on paper. In like, a physical newspaper. The ones you pay for. From like a newsstand or bookstore. But those are a lost cause, I guess. The normies got a hold of those ages ago…

It seems far more likely that what CNN saw in this morass was an opportunity to further their favorite, patently sensational narrative: Trump supporters are racists, end of story. And as they began to dig a little deeper, they found what they believed to be concrete evidence of that very claim.

As a consequence of their “research”, CNN investigators discovered unsavory social media posts by the alleged GIF creator, HanAssholeSolo. The comments that CNN discovered are essentially indefensible, but it is worth noting that most of what they cited as particularly egregious “bigoted and hateful” content was posted by HanAssholeSolo to the “ImGoingToHellForThis” subreddit at reddit.com, a community that exists specifically as a haven for “Tasteless ‘politically incorrect’ dark, offensive, & twisted humor of all types...”

You see, it seems with the protection of relative anonymity people are more likely to share and discuss things for which they would be derided and decried were they conversing under their given name. This of course is not to say that anything HanAssholeSolo posted is redeemable or wholesome in any way. I’m merely suggesting the possibility that people do some really dumb, offensive things in pursuit of imaginary internet points, and those things are not necessarily conclusive evidence of that person’s authentic bigotry.

Don’t for a second believe that the screenshots you saw of HanAssholeSolo’s reddit comments are representative of the most shocking, offensive, or vitriolic content you can find on the internet. CNN, of course, proceeded to essentially blackmail an individual for espousing these reprehensible ideas, whatever their genuineness. The outlet only relented when HanAssholeSolo “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.” 

Maybe CNN could lean into their newfound role as dispensers of vigilante social justice and hire an entire division to investigate, identify, and extort as many unsavory internet personalities as possible. They’d have their hands full for sure.

The true outrage to come out of this debacle is not that a rando on the internet said something nasty or that a sitting president poked fun at a major news agency. It is that CNN’s moral relativism was allowed to dominate the news cycle for as long as it did. It’s that CNN publicly chastised an individual for his cowardly anonymity while routinely relying on anonymous reports and sources to fill their airtime. It’s that a news organization engaged in almost the same behavior (perhaps worse) for which they constantly dole out criticism of the current administration. It is that this case is indicative of an overall trend on traditional media: that it has become woefully out-of-touch, vindictive, and routinely inaccurate; a sector that cheers on the seeking out and extortion of an individual citizen for political dissent and possibly outing the wrong person in the process. The very worst part being that this borderline criminal behavior is conducted under the auspices of righting moral wrongs, but only the kind of moral wrongs convenient to an arbitrary narrative at a given political moment.

It’s hard to see how anyone could hold anything remotely resembling respect for any party involved in this theatre of the mundane.


Andrew M.S. Boyd is a co-founder and editor of WriterDie. You can follow him on Twitter: @amsb

Andrew M. S. Boyd