Learning from the ‘CNN blackmail’ scandal

Published 5:32 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Over the extended Fourth of July weekend, a GIF, or a short video, circulated social media. A supporter of President Donald Trump took a segment of a decade-old WWE clip of Trump tackling a man with CNN’s logo superimposed over his face.

CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski managed to track down the anonymous user on Reddit who created the GIF. Kaczynski’s article argues that the GIF promotes violence against reporters. He sifted through the Reddit user’s history on the website, outlining racist comments made. CNN managed to find the name attached to the Reddit profile by crossing information available there with a Facebook search.

Ultimately, the user apologized for the viral clip. CNN decided not to publish the private citizen’s information because he “showed his remorse,” but that CNN also “reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Therein lies the heart of the controversy. That one sentence, many have been arguing, is a threat and CNN is blackmailing the Reddit user. While there is journalistic value in discovering the identity of the creator of a viral post that Trump himself posted to his own Twitter, it’s not CNN’s duty to police — even censor — social media.

Social media users have the First Amendment right to make posts and create any content they would like. Even hate speech, as despicable as it is, is protected, too.

However, there’s an important lesson tucked away in all the online bickering that has resulted. Even in Beaufort County, children are exposed to the internet and social media from a young age. Older adults are catching up, too.

A post to social media may be protected as free speech, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come with consequences. An offensive post made by a high school student can cost him college opportunities. Adults can lose their jobs over something posted to Facebook and Twitter.

The lesson is to be mindful of what one is posting online. If it’s not something to say out loud, it’s not something that should be posted for hundreds, thousands or even millions to see.