On Wednesday, Twitter was set ablaze over a debate about a CNN article that identified the Reddit user — though not with his real name — who created the GIF of President Donald Trump wrestling a man with the network's logo superimposed over his head. Many on Twitter accused CNN of blackmailing the Reddit user by stating in the article that the network would not reveal his identity if he did not "repeat this ugly behavior on social media again." CNN denies that it made a deal with the Reddit user.
The Reddit user in question, Han*ssholeSolo, first came into the public eye last week after the president shared his GIF on Twitter. The GIF itself appears to be sourced from Wrestlemania 23 in 2007, where Trump was pitted against the WWE chairman Vince McMahon. In the GIF, Trump wrestles McMahon to the ground before throwing a few punches.
But with the photoshopped CNN logo on McMahon's face, critics said it took on a whole new meaning. On Monday, CNN contacted the Reddit user behind the wrestling GIF to no avail. However, the report published on Wednesday morning reveals that CNN was able to obtain the Reddit user's name and biographical information, while also verifying other posts by the Reddit user that have now been deleted. The article from CNN claims that many of Han*ssholeSolo's previous posts contained racist and anti-Semitic themes.
On Tuesday, the Reddit user made an apology on the subreddit /The_Donald, that has now been deleted. It read, in part:
I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and antisemitic. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life.
I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts. I would never support any kind of violence or actions against others simply for what they believe in, their religion, or the lifestyle they choose to have.
While his apology, and his Reddit account in full, has now been deleted, Twitter users posting under the hashtag #CNNBlackmail are making claims that the apology was issued because CNN either threatened or coerced the Reddit user.
But the network denied the claim in a statement that noted it did not publish the Reddit user's name "out of concern for his safety," and that no deal was made between CNN and the Reddit user.
The claims of blackmail specifically refer to the lines in the article where CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski confirms that following the posting of his apology, the Reddit user returned calls from the network, confirmed his identity, and expressed concern about his personal identity being revealed. According to the article, CNN does not plan to reveal his identity, under the pretense that Han*ssholeSolo doesn't make inflammatory posts again.
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.
One of the factors that made Twitter users most angry was speculation on the Han*ssholeSolo's age, with some claiming he was only 15 years old. The rumors around his age were first circulated from threads on 4Chan and Imgur, but CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski quickly wrote a rebuttal noting that the Reddit user is in fact a middle-aged man.
At the end of the now deleted apology from the Reddit user, he went on to clarify that the Trump wrestling GIF wasn't intended to incite violence against the media, or CNN specifically.
"The meme was created purely as satire, it was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation," he wrote.