If this week proves nothing else, it is that traditional media operating in the supposedly rarefied air of “true journalism” have no idea at all how to properly respond to social media.
An anonymous Reddit user recently created a video showing President Donald Trump punching a CNN logo WWE-style, which Trump himself tweeted out last weekend. CNN responded Tuesday night by announcing that it had uncovered the identity of the user, and that he’d also published anti-Semitic and racist content. They would hold off on publishing his name – for now – because he appeared appropriately contrite. But, CNN warned, that could change at any time.
Here’s the actual text from their article:
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 line is ominous, disturbing and churlish for a news organization. It appears to be threatening to bring down the full corporate weight of CNN on anyone who goes against it in even the most clumsily absurd of ways. Social media immediately blew up, calling CNN’s treatment of the video creator “blackmail.”
This whole incident underlines that traditional media seems absolutely incapable of handling social media with the sort of aplomb it deserves. It’s unclear if CNN’s marketing team ever weighed in on the above statement, but it will certainly bear the brunt of this disaster.
This was far from CNN’s first tangle with President Trump, of course. They’ve been locked in an ugly back-and-forth that stretches far beyond this incident, with Trump routinely blasting them as “fake news” and them repeatedly trumpeting his alleged ties to Russia.
What seems to elude CNN is that they cannot claim the mantle of respectability, decency and dare-I-say “real news” while simultaneously threatening to doxx a Redditor who created a video of the CNN logo being punched.
Regardless of whether there’s an implied expectation of privacy when anonymous Internet users post content online, there’s also the very real question of whether the user’s identity is even relevant to whatever was truly newsworthy in this story.
Should “real news” focus on who created this video? Should they consider instead that it was Trump’s people who added sound and tweeted it out? Or maybe real news should focus on the fact that North Korea is testing a missile that could reach Alaska?
Traditional media want to claim the mantle of “gatekeeper” – and yet they are the most keen to avoid discussion of what passes for “news” in their hallowed halls. It’s their hypocrisy on this issue that allows social media to continue to pound them with a mallet. (Figuratively, via a clumsy video uploaded to Reddit, of course.)
As far as anyone can tell, social media doesn’t have any journalistic or ethical standards. Users can anonymously post whatever content they want, with little to no repercussions. Apparently CNN is jealous.