The #CNNBlackmail Controversy

Quite a few days ago, there have been blackmail and/or coercion allegations against the Cable News Network, CNN. I just want to start of by saying that some of what is being said involves some conjecture. I recommend that you look at all information currently available before making any conclusions.

Here is the background information: The Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo posted a graphical interchange format file which includes the CNN logo being edited over the head of person Donald Trump’s opponent in a wrestling match; Donald Trump posted a video on Twitter, which includes that graphic; CNN posted an article titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF”, on the 5th of July, 2017, which announces they had found identity of the Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo.


Blackmail Allegations

The article from CNN, titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF”, which was publish on the 5th of July, 2017, states the following:

“After posting his apology, “HanA**holeSolo” called CNN’s KFile and confirmed his identity. In the interview, “HanA**holeSolo” sounded nervous about his identity being revealed and asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.
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.”

There are some phrases in that which arouse the attention of many people. The first paragraph of course makes us aware that the individual of /u/HanAssholeSolo wishes not to be identified, out of personal safety and for the public embarrassment.

The second paragraph explains that CNN did not publish his information because he issued an apology.

And that is followed up by a line stating “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”, which to many people appears as a threat. Because it appears to imply that CNN may publish the identity of /u/HanAssholeSolo if he takes back his apology, or shares a piece of content that CNN doesn’t like on social media. To many people, it appears to them as if CNN is making a threat.

This includes Julian Assange (as seen above) , who believes that the actions taken by CNN violates the law in the United States. Citing New York’s law against “coercion” (PEN § 135.60) and the federal law on “Conspiracy Against Human Rights” (18 U.S. Code § 241).

The author of the article, Andrew Kaczynski, then tried to defend the article, posting the following on twitter.

“This line is being misinterpreted. It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity.” ;
“CNN specifically choose not to reveal this guy’s identity and to say we threatened anyone is a total lie.” ; and
“”HanAssholeSolo” posted his apology before we *ever* spoke him. He called us afterwards to apologize further.”

The last statement listed is is being criticised as before the article was published, he has posed the following on twitter:

“This apology came after CNN identified and reached out to HanAssholeSolo. Story and interview w/him posting soon”

Those two tweets seem to be contradictory to each over, and the article published by CNN. At worst, Andrew Kaczynski is being intentionally dishonest and lying, at best he is either mistaken on the subject which he had written an article about, which was published on the front page of CNN. Even being as charitable as I possibly could, this does not look like a good situation, and the information provided by Andrew Kaczynski does not appear to be entirely accurate.


Age Allegations

There is a lot of claims and conjecture relating to what people claim the age is.

There are accusations that the person who was identified by CNN, the person who created the .gif file, known as the Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo was the age of 15. These accusation have no validity towards them, as far as I could find. I was not able to find any evidence that the mentioned individual was or wasn’t the age 15. So far, all claims regarding the age of this individual appear to be unverified.

What appears to be the origin to these claims of the individual being the age of 15 is a post on 4chan’s /pol/ board, where an anonymous individual makes the “They [, CNN] doxxed a 15 year old.”, the posted also claiming to have “checked his Facebook”.

The claims that the individual is of the age of 15 as been denied repeatedly by Andrew Kaczynski on Twitter and by CNN in a statement. On twitter Andrew Kaczynski has said “[…] HanAssholeSolo is a middle aged man. People claiming he’s 15 are wrong.” ; “HanAssholeSolo is not 15 or anywhere close to it.” ; and “HanAssholeSolo is an adult and not 15 which people have spread.”


CNN Statement

CNN has made the following statement:

“CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false. The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter. CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”

At this moment, I would like to point out the contrasting differences between CNN’s statement, the article and what was written on Andrew Kaczynski’s Twitter account.

Whilst the original article stated “CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology,” the statement provided by CNN contains “CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety.” Those are two very different reasons for not publishing someone’s information.

“The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter.” while the Andrew Kaczynsk’s twitter account it states ““HanAssholeSolo” posted his apology before we *ever* spoke him. He called us afterwards to apologize further.”, both of those statements omit the fact that they had attempted to contact him before the apology was posted. The article makes the following statements: “The Reddit user who initially claimed credit for President Donald Trump’s tweet that showed Trump tackling CNN issued an apology Tuesday for the video and other offensive content he posted – one day after CNN identified the man behind the account and attempted to make contact with him.” ; and “On Monday, KFile attempted to contact the man by email and phone but he did not respond. On Tuesday, “HanA**holeSolo” posted his apology on the subreddit /The_Donald and deleted all of his other posts.”


How Specifically Did CNN Obtain The Information of /u/HanAssholeSolo?

That is currently something that is left unknown. According to the article from CNN, his information was found by doing a search on Facebook search and comparing the details from his account on Facebook and Reddit stating:

“KFile was able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.”

But this doesn’t really provide that much detail. It doesn’t really inform us on how they managed to find out who he was. The lack of information as of how specifically the individual was identified as lead to quite a bit of speculation as of how CNN may have found this information.

Some people are speculation that CNN obtained some identifying information which could include the IP address or even an email address from a moderator or administrator from Reddit. Likewise, it’s also being speculated that information such as an IP address could have been used to identify the individual using their Internet service provider, which is speculated to be Time Warner, which owns CNN. Some of this is speculation appears to be originating from 4chan’s /g/ board. It could also be something far more trivial, such as a tipoff to CNN from someone the individual personally knows. But all of that is nothing other than speculation.

To put simply, we don’t know specifically how CNN obtained the identity of the Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo.


Was CNN’s actions doxxing?

The answer to this really depends on how you what you define as doxxing. The Oxford English dictionary describes doxxing as to “Search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”, as CNN did not publish the identifying information of the individual, their actions may not count as doxxing under this definition. However, if you interpreted the article as threatening to publicise the information, you could say that under that interpretation they were threatening to doxx that individual. If you believe the mere searching and finding of such unwanted information counts as doxxing, then under that definition, CNN activities almost certainly count as doxxing. So whether CNN has doxxed this individual or not is really down to interpretation. However, I don’t believe that doxxing is necessarily a good or bad thing. It really depends on the specific case. A lot of instances where doxxing occurs is almost certainly bad, but I don’t think that’s universal. For example, the users of 4chan managed to identify the a masked individual who attacked someone with a bike lock, I would say that their actions were doxxing, but I wouldn’t say that the doxxing is bad as in this instance, as the individual is being targeted for committing the serious crime of assault, and I would deem assaulting someone as much worse than having some’s information available online. Likewise, if CNN is to doxx an individual for creating a graphical interchange format file which includes the CNN logo being edited over the head of person Donald Trump’s opponent in a wrestling match, I would view CNN’s doxxing as unreasonable and unethical as it’s far worse and far more damaging compared to the manufacture of the .gif file done by the individual.


Timeline of Events

  • The Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo posted a graphical interchange format file which includes the CNN logo being edited over the head of person Donald Trump’s opponent in a wrestling match
  • Donald Trump posted a video on Twitter, which includes that graphic. ( 2nd of Jul, 2017 )
  • Media backlash towards Trump and the video he posted on Twitter
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter looks for source of Trump’s video and finds .gif posed by /u/HanAssholeSolo ( 2nd of July, 2017 )
  • CNN identified the man behind the account and attempted to make contact with him
  • KFile (Andrew Kaczynski) attempted to contact the man by email and phone but he did not respond. ( 3rd of July, 2017 )
  • The Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo posted his apology on the subreddit /The_Donald and deleted all of his other posts. ( 4th of July, 2017 )
  • After apology is posted, the Reddit user /u/HanAssholeSolo then contacts CNN, where he asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family, according to CNN.
  • On Twitter Andrew Kaczynski posted “This apology came after CNN identified and reached out to HanAssholeSolo. Story and interview w/him posting soon” ( 4th of July, 2017 )
  • CNN Published “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF” article ( 5th of July, 2017 )
  • Accusations regarding the article later spread

Conclusions and Closing Statements

It appears that CNN may have taken action that had violated U.S law, however not everything CNN is being accused of may be true. It’s important to maintain skepticism on all claims made and separate your emotions from the interpretation of events. I do personally believe that CNN’s actions surrounding this are questionable at best and dishonest at worst. Did CNN commit blackmail? That comes down to your personal judgment of all the information that’s currently available.


References

CNN Article

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/04/politics/kfile-reddit-user-trump-tweet/index.html 
( http://archive.is/8eY2F )

4chan post accusing doxxed of being 15 years of age

http://boards.4chan.org/pol/thread/132421181 
( http://archive.is/vUuKk )

https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/132421181/

Julian Assange Citing Law

https://twitter.com/JulianAssange/status/882480814499536897

https://mobile.twitter.com/JulianAssange/status/882480814499536897 
( http://archive.is/4GzrM )

New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law – PEN § 135.60 Coercion in the second degree

http://codes.findlaw.com/ny/penal-law/pen-sect-135-60.html

Federal Law – 18 U.S. Code § 241 – Conspiracy Against Human Rights

https://www.justice.gov/crt/conspiracy-against-rights

KFile Tweets

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882438606270410752 
( http://archive.is/YD6cj )

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882417992717537280 
( http://archive.is/DPkxf )

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882407128962650113 
( http://archive.is/X9HVZ )

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882418323673239553 
( http://archive.is/4hccw )

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882575268564656129 
( http://archive.is/Ac0Iu )

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/882580334470213632 
( http://archive.is/KVWSh )

Trump Video Tweet

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/881503147168071680 
( http://archive.is/KDc7W )

CNN’s Brian Stelter looks for and finds .gif

https://twitter.com/brianstelter/status/881503764011663360 
( http://archive.is/0YXTI )

4chan speculation on use of ISP

http://boards.4chan.org/g/thread/61224567/ 
( http://archive.is/hjO6T )

4chan Bike Lock Doxxing Story

http://dailycaller.com/2017/05/25/police-arrest-berkeley-professor-accused-of-bike-lock-assault/ 
( http://archive.is/LCLXL )

https://imgur.com/a/SwkUJ

Images & Screenshots

CNN Article clip

http://i.imgur.com/5EZzZfZ.png https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29520.png (backup)

CNN Full Article Image

http://i.imgur.com/dwDiZ82.jpg

Julian Assange Citing Law

http://i.imgur.com/IiNcoPW.jpg

4chan post accusing doxxed of being 15 years of age

http://i.imgur.com/UHIs0RD.png https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29546.png (backup)

KFile Tweets

http://i.imgur.com/LZs3I01.png 
http://i.imgur.com/oTmKlSi.png 
http://i.imgur.com/vwiQGdz.png 
http://i.imgur.com/7dpdpv8.png 
http://i.imgur.com/cXUrlRG.png 
http://i.imgur.com/DuaE7O0.png 
http://i.imgur.com/87uWCNz.png 
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29524.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29525.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29526.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29527.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29551.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29552.png (backup)
https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29553.png (backup)

CNN’s Brian Stelter looks for and finds .gif

http://i.imgur.com/iaitlcy.png https://imgoat.com/uploads/4173cb38f0/29572.png (backup)

4chan speculation on use of ISP

http://i.imgur.com/u0jYCcI.png

Articles on the Topic, includes a variety of opinions which are not my own, and detailing from elsewhere

https://www.rt.com/viral/395327-cnn-blackmail-meme-trump/ 
( http://archive.is/XVhq1 )

https://www.rt.com/usa/395447-cnn-blackmail-internet-war/ 
( http://archive.is/Hna3y )

https://www.rt.com/op-edge/395424-cnn-blackmail-controversy-journalists/ ( http://archive.is/BQ8VJ )

https://torguard.net/blog/cnn-blackmails-reddit-user-to-apologize-for-meme/ 
( http://archive.is/dPa2L )

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world-0/us-politics/cnn-blackmail-reddit-hansassholesolo-trump-wrestling-meme-statement-accusations-claims-a7825856.html 
( http://archive.is/2B5dd )

http://gizmodo.com/how-cnn-made-its-own-reporting-sound-like-blackmail-1796656983 
( http://archive.is/5J4fi )

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/7/5/15922214/cnnblackmail-reddit-trump-wrestling 
( http://archive.is/KGxTn )

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2017/07/cnn_s_crime_wasn_t_blackmail_it_was_petty_self_righteousness.html 
( http://archive.is/SCFYg )

http://www.salon.com/2017/07/05/internet-trolls-say-cnn-is-blackmailing-the-guy-who-posted-a-viral-donald-trump-meme/ 
( http://archive.is/Ml6HQ )

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CNN_blackmail_controversy