A CNN reporter is facing harassment, death threats, and a potential protest at his house after he wrote a story that did not name a Reddit user who created a GIF posted by Donald Trump but suggested he might publish the user’s identity if their social media behavior changed.
Social media personality and alt-right commentator Mike Cernovich is among those leading the charge against the reporter, Andrew Kaczynski, saying on Twitter, “We are coming for you.”
Earlier in the day, Cernovich said that “sources” had told him they had planned a protest in front of Kaczynski’s house. An address that reportedly belongs to Kaczynski has been widely spread on Twitter, along with Kaczynski’s phone numbers and information about his spouse, siblings, and parents.
Tweets about Kaczynski vary wildly, with some castigating him for his perceived offense while others advocate physical violence against him and CNN in general. Kaczynski’s now-infamous piece tracked down the identity of the Reddit user, HanAssholeSolo, who claims to have created Donald Trump’s anti-CNN wrestling GIF. It included these paragraphs:
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.
Vox’s German Lopez has suggested that this section of the piece is questionable at best:
The two paragraphs, as multiple journalists (including myself) pointed out, read a lot like CNN essentially threatening to dox someone — meaning reveal a person’s private identity — if that person didn’t behave as CNN demanded. The apparent threat quickly took off on social media under the hashtag #CNNBlackmail, with mostly conservatives and Trump supporters calling out CNN for what would be seriously unethical behavior for a major media organization.
Doxxing is a common internet practice used to punish or shame someone and is a particularly common practice among the alt-right and other white supremacist organizations who operate online in places like Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter.
Lopez discusses doxxing at length while outlining the dangers of CNN’s misstatement:
The problem here is that the internet is not proportional. People wouldn’t merely react to this guy making some offensive remarks on the internet by making some offensive remarks to him. They would react as the internet has reacted before to these kinds of situations — with potentially thousands of hateful messages, death threats, attempts to get him fired, and harassment not just against him but also his family. Lines would quickly be crossed.
Consider swatting, when pranksters call 911 and lie about someone doing something really bad, like holding a hostage, to get dispatchers to send police — and particularly a SWAT team — to a victim’s location. This is extremely dangerous, given that it could lead to a shooting. But it’s often done as a mere prank against celebrities and people who stream themselves playing video games — there’s no justification; it’s just for laughs.
Now imagine what people would be willing to do if they had a justification, or at least what they perceive as a justification.
It appears that while Kaczynski’s critics don’t want to see the Reddit user doxxed, they have no qualms about doing the same to Kaczynski.
Kaczynski hasn’t publicly responded to these actions and, on Twitter at least, didn’t seem particularly fazed.