It’s pretty likely that you’ve seen the gif Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that showed him beating up Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania back in 2007. It became his most-shared Twitter post and caused lots of controversy, mainly because the clip had been doctored with a CNN logo plastered over the WWE CEO’s face. But the news organization's actions in the wake of the tweet have caused even more outrage.
On Tuesday, CNN published an article revealing it had discovered the true identity of the anonymous Reddit user who created the gif. His pseudonym, HanAssholeSolo (or HAS), was already known, and when a number of publications, including CNN, went through his previous posts, they found several containing racist and anti-Semitic comments.
Once all this became public knowledge, HAS issued an apology and deleted the offending posts. But CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski continued his investigation and managed to figure out HAS's real name. The site promised to keep it a secret on the condition that he doesn’t repeat his earlier behavior.
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.
That final sentence has sparked fury among many social media users, especially those on Twitter, where the hashtag #CNNBlackmail starting trending soon after the piece appeared – though both HAN and the site say his apology was written and posted before he spoke to CNN.
"CNN essentially blackmailed a private citizen because he made fun of CNN," tweeted Paul Joseph Watson, an editor of conspiracy website InfoWars. "Let that sink in."
There were also claims made by some people, including Donald Trump’s son - Donald Trump Jr. - that HAN is just 15 years old, but Kaczynski said he is a middle-aged man.
Following the outcry, Kaczynski responded to the “reserves the right” sentence by tweeting "this line is being misinterpreted. It was intended only to mean we made no agreement [with] the man about his identity."
Correcting misinformation. HanAssholeSolo is an adult and not 15 which people have spread. https://t.co/BQ2QCDwZ0L— andrew kaczynski ? (@KFILE) July 5, 2017
But whether the company intended to or not, the fact it appears CNN is threatening to expose a person’s identity if it doesn’t like what they post online is causing a lot of anger.