No, this isn't an article from The Onion.
It's been a tough year for CNN as they face steady criticism on their coverage of the US president and his administration. CNN's biggest critic, Donald Trump, tweeted an edited video from 2007 of his time in the WWE, where he wrestles Vince McMahon with a CNN logo on his head.
It's not the first time Trump has vented his opinions of the news network, but CNN has taken the troubling action of locating the original creator of the meme and threatened to reveal the identity, or dox, the anonymous creator if he backs down on his apology.
Doxxing is often done to controversial or notorious figures on the internet where their personal information is released. This can vary between revealing someone's real name, to their contact details, or to even to their home address. This can lead to bullying, harassment, and even threats of violence.
It's a serious action, one which is usually done by malicious parties on shadier parts of the internet. A journalist's job involves finding and contacting people for news stories, so it's no surprise somebody at CNN found the real identity and contact details of this person. In their article [LINK] CNN said they emailed and called him, so they have plenty of information about him should they choose to dox him.
In the wake of the fierce criticism they have received, CNN released a statement explaining their actions, and it clarifies a few things, but raises even more questions:
CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false. The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter. CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user's identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.
CNN rebuffed assertions by 4Chan and Reddit users that the meme creator is a 15 year old, clarifying that he's an adult. They also insisted the phrasing of the original article was to establish that they had made no deal to keep the man's identity a secret. Also, the user did not delete his account before speaking with the reporter.
What's missing in their statement is any form of apology. The prospect of having your identity unveiled by a national news network would be terrifying, especially when you're caught in the middle of a fight between the President and CNN. The internet isn't kind to people who are doxxed and even the slightest suggestion that they would reveal this man's identity is unacceptable.
I'm unfamiliar with the ethical frameworks of the media in the US (do they even have industry wide codes of ethics?) but the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Australian journalism industry's professional association, has the following in their code of ethics:
11. Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
No doubt this story will continue to unfold over the coming days, but for now we can enjoy all the memes that Reddit and 4Chan have created in response to CNN. Hopefully they won't dox these people!