Consider Section 2261A of title 18, United States Code- Stalking against the article in which CNN threatened to expose the identity of a redditor credited with the creation of the WWE meme to which the organization took exception.
(1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such travel or presence engages in conduct that—
A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to—
B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A),
shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) of this title.
Let’s start with location:
CNN is an American company and the article’s writer Andrew Kaczynski’s twitter profile and his profile on Buzzfeed both identify him as a New Yorker. That satisfies “is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” The article was published online, which satisfies the “uses any interactive computer service or electronic communication service” element.
In Andrew Kaczynski’s article, “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF,” he clearly states that CNN staff took time and effort combing through redditor HanAssholeSolo’s social network posts to obtain his personally identifying information and then contacted him, after which the he posted an extensive apology on reddit.
“The Reddit user who initially claimed credit for President Donald Trump’s tweet that showed Trump tackling CNN issued an apology Tuesday for the video and other offensive content he posted — one day after CNN identified the man behind the account and attempted to make contact with him.”
Whatever was communicated to redditor HanAssholeSolo during that contact inspired him to write an extensive, self-flagellating public apology and publish it on a forum where the meme in question wouldn’t have elicited outrage, but more likely praise. This raises reasonable suspicion that he did experience substantial emotional distress; particularly, fear.
This in and of itself could possibly satisfy the “…engages in conduct that causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to that person, an immediate family member of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person.)” element, depending on what was said in that communication and whether or not the apology was, in fact, written in fear rather than remorse.
Kaczynski also made a point to state, rather vaguely, that his target’s other posts “included racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” This is after an organization called “The Committee to Protect Journalists” released a statement that President Trump’s tweet of the GIF in question “undermines the work of the media in the U.S. and makes it more dangerous,” a detail Kaczynski included in his article, along with the statement that “CNN said in a statement that the tweet “encourages violence against reporters.”‘ With this, Kaczynski has painted HanAssholeSolo as a racist, hateful inciter of violence against individuals associated with an organization valued by the “progressive” left.
That representation of the situation and the GIF’s creator does not exist in a vacuum.
It exists in an environment in which, to date, there is no incident which could be cited to support Andrew Kaczynski’s hysterical reaction to the GIF tweeted by President Trump. However, various factions within the “progressive” left have responded violently to various factors they oppose. Antifa, ineffective as they are, has rioted, vandalized property, and assaulted people as an expression of their opposition to libertarian and conservative activism and speech. We’ve seen Black Lives Matter chant their desire for “dead cops now.” Threats have been made against numerous Republican civil servants, and a Bernie Sanders supporter took a gun to a baseball practice and shot Congressional Representative Steve Scalise last month, leaving behind a kill list with several names. In March, The Hill’s Capitol blog had an article by Kristin Tate describing numerous threats, including some from celebrities and some that have been investigated as credible, which had been hurled at President Trump from the left. Claims that the president is racist are one of the left’s loudest complaints.
In addition, a few years ago the site the GIF originated on, reddit.com, was embroiled in a controversy over the publication of another redditor‘s personally identifying information by tabloid-trash site Gawker.com after demonizing him as a facilitator of the publication of “sexualized images” of women. As a result of Gawker’s articles, this individual’s employer was contacted by numerous people and heckled into firing him.
Those details establish an environment in which publicly identifying an individual while simultaneously characterizing him as someone progressives would or should oppose could reasonably elicit in said individual a fear of being targeted for retribution which could include targeting his workplace to get him fired, and even violence against him or his family.
This certainly appears to satisfy the “…engages in conduct that places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, an immediate family member of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person, or causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to (any of the aforementioned people.)” element.
The final elements of this is the wording of that threat:
“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.”
This clearly links Kaczynski’s threat to an order to HanAssholeSolo to comply with the way Kaczynski thinks he should behave online. There is no other way to read that besides “Behave yourself, or I’ll release your identity and sic the public on you.”
That satisfies the “intent to intimidate” element and likely the “intent to place under surveillance with intent to intimidate.” element, as well, since the “should any of that change” part of the statement implies that CNN’s staff will be watching to see if it does.
So… Andrew Kaczynski was present in the United States and engaged in a course of conduct which resulted in the individual behaving in a manner indicative of substantial emotional distress… then after seeing that response (established by the fact that he publicly documented it,) with intent to intimidate, Kaczynski engaged in further action which may have placed his target in reasonable fear of the death or serious bodily injury, and would be reasonably expected to cause him substantial emotional distress. Kaczynski followed that up with a statement which could be reasonably understood to indicate intent to place his target under surveillance with intent to intimidate him.
Is that a violation of the United States’ federal anti-stalking law?”
Possibly, maybe even probably. A more solid conclusion could be reached given the details of the communication HanAssholeSolo received from CNN, something that will probably not be made public. While it can be speculated that the apology appeared to be inspired by fear, it would take the details of that conversation to be sure. However, even if it were to turn out that the conversation had nothing in it which would seem intended to intimidate, Mr. Kaczynski’s implied threat to publish his target’s identity, should he repeat his “ugly behavior on social media,” is still pretty damning. I would not want to be the author of Mr. Kaczynski’s article should its target choose to pursue charges.
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