Politics is a culture all of its own. Some people vote, some write letters to the editor, and some people breathe politics every day, whether they do it for a living or simply out of a passion for the political process. There are times when politicos are consumed with their own little world that sometimes they forget that end of every political diatribe they have, a real, live person on the receiving end.
Just when everybody thought the WWE/Trump meme hysteria had died down, it roared back to life with vigor when CNN, led by reporter Andrew Kaczynski, managed to find the person who made the original meme in the form of a GIF. It depicted a scene from a WWE wrestling match with Donald Trump pummeling a person with a CNN logo for a face (it was WWE Chairman Vince McMahon). The video President Trump used in his tweet was created separately, but CNN managed to find the original Reddit user.
Unsurprisingly, the man turned out to be a bigot, with people discovering a bunch of racist screeds on Reddit. Caught, he apologized and deleted his Reddit account. It raised the hackles of some people, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. What got the outrage train moving was CNN’s addition of a line that stated while they knew the identity of the Reddit user, they would allow him to remain anonymous but could change their mind. It set off a round of accusations about blackmail and doxing.
It also raised questions about whether or not CNN’s report was real journalism or an act of revenge as well as a debate over Internet anonymity, as well as an insight into the ugliness that comes out of people in situations such as this one.
Was it journalism?
The changes to journalism go back over 20 years. In the 1990’s, television and radio, along with newspapers and magazines, dominated politics. Online political activism centered around AOL chat rooms. Two types of journalism existed for the most part in politics – reporting and opinion. It’s still relatively the same, except now unconventional outlets attract millions of readers, and the resources people have available to them make it so that getting information is relatively easy.
Was CNN’s story important news, on par with what is going on North Korea? No. But it is still news. I am certain when people saw the President’s tweet for the first time, many of them asked, “Who did that for him?” and “Who made that?” Both legitimate questions for people in general, but also for journalists. I think it was a story worth reporting, but CNN should have dug deeper and tried to gain a sense of who is in the White House, outside of Dan Scavino, who’s working on the president’s social media accounts and determining where they get the information the president tweets to tens of millions of people.
Should people be anonymous online or not?
The incident allowed for people to say, “Hey, if you’re going to be posting stuff on the Internet, you should do it with your real name!” I think this attitude misses the point of why anonymity online is a good thing. The Supreme Court ruled on more than one occasion that anonymous speech is protected free speech. Do I care of some bigot who uses anonymity to spread racist bile on the Internet is unmasked? Not at all. That is an extreme form of anonymity by somebody who wants to say nasty things without consequence. There are, however, many people whose reasons to remain anonymous has nothing to do with malice.
To that end, I support people who feel they must mask their identity while online. People do it for a variety of reasons, many of which rise far above the desire to say bigoted things and get away with it. A job situation or legal reasons can necessitate somebody is anonymous. People are using one particular incident to make a blanket case against Internet anonymity.
If we think back over history, something that comes immediately to mind? The Federalist Papers. Written anonymously in 1788, the 85 articles and essays urged ratification of the US Constitution. While some people suspected the authors were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, it wasn’t until 1944 when historian Douglass Adair assigned all 85 to the three men. It is a textbook case for why anonymity remains a viable option for some, and the public should respect it.
What has become of our political culture?
Reporting never used to make people so angry they set out to “do something about it.” However, that scenario is playing itself out following the CNN story publication. It starts with a lie. Donald Trump Jr. and alt-right mental midget, Jack Posobiec, claimed the person who created the Reddit meme is 15-years-old. It wasn’t true.
It didn’t stop another famous Internet turd, Mike Cernovich, from calling on losers to descend on Andrew Kaczynski’s home and protest his actions. I had people tweeting at me all day sentiments of “Good for him! He deserves it!” and other colorful statements like, “This is the libs getting a taste of their own medicine!”
It’s revenge politics, not idea politics. It is the politics of anger. Ironically, in November 1994, Time magazine had a cover of Newt Gingrich, looking mad in harsh, direct sunlight. The magazine said, “Mad as Hell – The GOP’s Newt Gingrich Has Perfected The Politics of Anger.”
It’s ironic because compared to what we are witness to almost every day, that was a time when people got angry over policy but they debated the merits, not the so-called “harm” it would inflict upon political opposites. We’ve gone from rhetoric that peaked at, “If the budget plan passes, there will be schools around the country where kids will not have access to a reduced price school lunch.” Now, the public hears Senator Elizabeth Warren call a healthcare bill “blood money” and that the bill will pay for tax cuts for wealthy Americans with “people’s lives.”
The anger consuming people is going to boil over at some point, and that goes for the left and the alt-right. Nobody is innocent. Nobody is worse than any other. It’s going to come to a head, and people are going to get hurt.
People used to talk about the “politics of personal destruction.” It’s no longer about being personal towards somebody else. The culture shifted, and now, too many involved in politics take everything personally. People are allowing politics to define themselves as a person and using it to pass judgment on those whose politics they do not agree. We’ve only seen flashes of this over the last 10 years, but now we’re at a near boiling point and there may be no stopping it.