CNN has demonstrated, once again, one of the fundamental rules of the internet: Don’t feed the trolls.
On July 2, President Donald Trump tweeted an animated image of his past appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment clotheslining a wrestler who’d had the CNN logo superimposed over his head. Presidential? No. Funny? Yes. And on the troll scale? Pretty low-tier.
No fans of dignity, CNN expressed outrage. They accused the president of threatening violence against them. It could have stopped there, with CNN looking like a cry-baby and Trump coming off with a minor victory in getting under the network’s skin (again).
Instead, the network tracked down the alleged creator of the gif, Reddit user HanAssholeSolo, who had (supposedly) posted it along with other inflammatory images to the message board. In his article detailing how he found the user, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski—who made his name by siccing an internet mob against a woman who made an inappropriate joke on her Twitter account—seemed to threaten HanAssholeSolo. Kaczynski explained that the creator had apologized and promised not to make fun of CNN anymore. He added that CNN could revoke his privacy if that vow doesn’t hold.
If crying about Trump’s tweet was the appetizer to trolls, threatening a random internet user for making a meme is the big, juicy steak entrée.
Author and Observer columnist Michael Malice, a self-proclaimed troll, succinctly defines trolling as “the act of manipulating someone into becoming a performer via exploiting their flaws for comedic effect.” What the majority of the press fails to realize is that anyone can be a troll, and with millions of internet users with quick access to video clips, images, editing tools, boredom, and a sense of humor, the odds are stacked against them. The only way to escape with minimal damage is not to participate.
Immediately following CNN’s threat against HanAssholeSolo, trolls declared a meme war on the network. Posting on Twitter with the hashtag #CNNBlackmail, they started making pro-Trump, anti-CNN memes in the style of the original, incendiary image. At the time of writing, every tweet posted to CNN’s Twitter accounts has multiple top replies featuring the memes. By histrionically responding to the trolls, CNN has lost to the King Troll himself: President Donald Trump. The Trump administration has called the corporate press “the opposition party,” and CNN seems eager to live up to that moniker.
Sure, CNN and other media outlets that express outrage, feigned or real, will reinforce their respective choirs’ belief that brave journalists are being hunted by evil, basement-dwelling Nazis. But they will persuade no one who knows this game better than they do, which is almost everyone who’s been paying attention. CNN—and thin-skinned, self-righteous media outlets like them—are the losers in this meme war. Unless they stop feeding the trolls, the trolls will always prevail. Further, CNN’s petulant whining and threats against private citizens will fuel discontent with the media that is acutely felt by more than just Trump voters. Until they learn to laugh at themselves, their actions are nothing more than free advertising for the Trump 2020 campaign.
Jay Irwin is a 4chan moderator and ad-tech professional. Follow him on Twitter @invisibro