05 July 2017

CNN accused of ‘blackmailing’ Trump gif maker

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The video President Trump shared was originally submitted to a pro-Trump forum on the social media site Reddit

Broadcaster CNN has been accused of “blackmail” following its investigation into the identity of the creator of a controversial gif shared by President Donald Trump.

The gif was first published by a Reddit user last Wednesday, who has since deleted his account. The creator of the gif has an offensive word in his username that we are unable to state, so out of taste and decency we have removed the vulgar word and will refer to him as “HanSolo”.

The hashtag #CNNBlackmail propelled by right-wing US internet personalities and Julian Assange, has been tweeted over half a million times since a CNN article documenting how it tracked down HanSolo was published.

CNN has not revealed the true identity of the user who apologised on Reddit and deleted offensive material including racist posts, but said it “reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change” [sic].

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Social media users have responded to the ‘blackmail’ by creating memes accusing CNN of producing “fake news” and being defeated by President Trump

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange accused CNN of “blackmailing a private citizen” and tweeted: “When Trump goes low CNN goes lower: threatens to dox artist behind ‘CNN head’ video if he makes fun of them again”.

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Right-wing online activists and conspiracy theorists, including Jack Posobiec and Mark Dice, were among those to share the hashtag.

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In a video posted on Twitter, right-wing author and commentator Mike Cernovich accused CNN of “extortion”, and “doxxing” that relates to the publication of private or identifying information about individuals on the internet.

Cernovich has been described as the “meme mastermind of the alt-right” and was instrumental in spreading false claims about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US election.

Responding to criticism from Cernovich, the journalist who wrote the CNN article, Andrew Kaczynski, tweeted that the broadcaster “specifically chose not to reveal the guy’s identity and to say we threatened anyone is a total lie”.

“HanSole posted his apology before we ever spoke to him,” he added.

“He called us afterwards to apologise further.”

Kaczynski said he had spoken to HanSolo and that the former Reddit user agreed that he had not been threatened by Kaczynski or CNN.

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Rumours circulating on social media had suggested that the user was a 15-year-old, but Kaczynski denies this.

“It’s not true,” he told the BBC in a Twitter exchange.

He subsequently tweeted: “Correcting misinformation. HanSolo is an adult and not 15 which people have spread,” in reply to a US actor’s disappointed tweet.

Much of the criticism levelled at CNN has focused on a line in the article in which Kazcynski reserves the right to publish the user’s name. Critics say that amounts to a threat against the individual concerned.

But Kazcynski claimed that the line had been misunderstood.

“It was intended only to mean we made no agreement with the man about his identity,” he tweeted.

By the BBC’s UGC and Social News team

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