By now you’ve heard of CNN’s tracking down and threatening to reveal the identity of “Han”, the person who first created the Trump wrasling CNN GIF. (A GIF is an animated picture, sort of like a really short video.) You’ve heard, I imagine, that CNN threatened to reveal Han’s identity (now called “doxing”, when someone threatens to out someone on the Internet with malicious intent) unless Han agreed to live up to CNN’s standards for healthy living. Here, you can read CNN’s position and decide for yourself what CNN meant:
“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.” (from CNN’s website)
All’s well that ends well, right?
Let’s say Han posts a GIF that intimates he doesn’t believe in climate change. There are plenty of folks at CNN who think that is blasphemy. From CNN’s Christiane Amanpour equating climate change skeptics to the purveyors of “ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia” and a boatload of on-air talent calling climate change opposition “deniers” in a clearly derogatory manner, it would appear that Han, our now apologetic Reddit poster, would have so incensed CNN with a climate change GIF that he would then be revealed by CNN to be the lying, wicked, bigot, racist, anti-Semite, littering, dog kicking, kitten hating, recidivist, naysayer that CNN contends he is, or was, until he profusely apologized to CNN when they used their exhaustive resources to track him down.
If CNN were to reveal his identity, so what? Well it appears that even CNN believes that a heap of righteous indignation would fall upon his head. Otherwise, why even mention the threat? This poor guy, regardless of his personal beliefs, hasn’t done anything more than create a GIF of Trump tackling CNN. He didn’t throw a firebomb through a storefront in Ferguson, Missouri. He didn’t shoot an officer in Baton Rouge. He didn’t incite a riot in Baltimore. He created a (1 – humorous to some, or 2 – in poor taste to others) GIF.
While CNN decries the Trump anti-media tweets, Trump’s supporters and most of Mainstreet America either agree with Trump or don’t care. In a recent poll, Trump’s favorable rating of 42% beat the Mainstream Media’s 36%. (Suffolk Univ./USA Today, June 2017). So it seems like CNN’s protesth too much. But, besides having fragile feelings, did CNN commit a crime by threatening Han?
CNN is based in Atlanta, which despite the wishes of some at CNN, is still in Georgia. Sen. Ted Cruz, suggested in a tweet that CNN’s lawyers would be taking a look at theft by extortion in Georgia. While I think highly of Sen. Cruz, his tweet only addressed one of the two important elements of the law. The problem is that the first part of that code requires that the victim have property unlawfully taken from him. What property was taken? His “right” to be left alone? Georgia doesn’t recognize that right, as best as I can tell, as property. So I don’t see the theft statute being an issue for CNN.
There is a Georgia law called “Computer Invasion of Privacy. Any person who uses a computer or computer network with the intention of examining … any other financial or personal data relating to any other person with knowledge that such examination is without authority shall be guilty of the crime of computer invasion of privacy.” Did CNN have authority to engage in the surreptitious conduct that was used to unveil Han’s true identity? Doubtful. Did CNN violate Reddit’s or Facebook policies? Probably. But it is still a stretch to prosecute CNN for violating Georgia law, that whole “freedom of the press” thing still exists.
Possibly more problematic for CNN is a federal statute, 18 USC 241 says: “If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;… They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both…?” However, it would take a literal “Act of Congress” and years of hearings to get any federal prosecutor to take on CNN. Politics is a rough and tumble business, and CNN undoubtedly has such extensive contacts in the FBI, DOJ and Congress to keep any thought of a federal investigation at bay.
Is there a right to be left alone? Generally no. In this case, Han started the mess with his attempt at being funny. But what if you just happen to be the one in the spotlight, through no fault of your own. You were a witness to an apparent assault and talked to the police, but now as the story has gotten flipped around, the media is digging deep into your background. Can you keep your name out of the paper, or the news media off your doorstep? Not really, which is why more and more people choose not to get involved.
The right to privacy is no greater than the freedom of the press, which is no greater than the right to remain silent and so on. Each and every right is important and sometimes they get trampled on by someone else’s exercise of their rights. I hope for his sake that Han remains anonymous so that he is free from harm. Politics can be a dangerous activity these days.