Sometime last week, the President of the United States shared a video of himself poorly punching Vince McMahon whose face was dubbed over with CNN’s logo. Because it’s 2017.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
CNN replied in a statement with some quips about how it was “unpresidential” and how, “they’ll keep doing their job, maybe the President should start doing his” (sic). These were fine responses, and it should have been left at that. Most people saw the event as just another trite example of how Trump is not qualified to be President of the United States, and yes his base ate it up, but of course they did. This is the internet in the Trump era, after all, something else will come along.
But we're talking about American media, and they couldn't let this go. They took it as a direct threat of inciting violence against the media and it became the hottest news story in the Western World last week. Because it's 2017.
In lieu of forgetting this incident, CNN sought out the identity of the original poster who created this video, and they threatened to reveal the assailant's identity unless they apologized and ceased making such content.
CNN, you dun goofed, and in a bigger way than you might realize.
While the initial backlash is still unfolding, sufficed to say, the internet is responding by declaring a Meme War, and this could have lasting effects that could irreparably damage CNN’s standing as a news organisation, and even worse, could incite a full dismantling of media rights.
What is a Meme War?
In short, while Donald Trump was certainly the face of his campaign, but Pepe the Frog became the face and symbol of Trump supporters all over the world. Many Trump supporters had seen Trump’s electoral victory as the victory in a national Meme War, and its mostly because of Pepe.
While this could be dismissed as silly nonsense, you can’t argue with results. It’s widely known that Trump enjoys vehement support from online communities, particularly the subreddit r/The_Donald. In many ways, memes accomplish the same thing Trump has been praised for doing. Getting out simple messages that feel right, along with iconography that is widely recognised by the indoctrinated. You know, stuff like, “build that wall,” and “Crooked Hillary.”
These Trump supporters were able to spam their message throughout the internet by creating memes, some of which were even retweeted by Trump Jr.
And who’s standing directly to the left of Trump? Pepe the Frog. The meme war is real.
The new Meme War
In the beginning of this whole escapade, CNN came out looking pretty good. Yes they were figuratively being punched in the head by the POTUS, but unless you were a devote Trump supporter, you’d likely agree with their sentiment that reminding the world that you were on WWE is monumentally unpresidential.
If you were anything like me, you accepted this sad state of affairs as par for the course in the modern American political climate, and again, it is the internet of the Trump era. Something else that inspires outrage will come along, and maybe this time it will actually have something to do with policy.
But apparently CNN couldn’t let it go.
The news cycle last week was dominated by this tweet. Is this presidential? Is he inciting violence? Are our democratic institutions at risk? And it all came to a head when CNN took action.
They discovered the personal information of the original poster of the meme, and they threatened to release it unless the poster apologize and cease their meming. This action is known as doxxing. Doxxing is finding out the personal information of an online persona and either using it for extortion, or just releasing it as some sort of revenge, and while its strict legality is nebulous, it is widely regarded as a moral cyber crime. Basically, they took a meme that didn’t really affect anything besides late night talk show monologues, and they took an action widely regarded as wrong by the majority of the online population, no matter which way they lean politically.
The result was a declaration of a new Meme War, and even a new subreddit called r/CNNmemes popped up overnight. It has plenty of memes portraying Trump as some sort of protagonist, but also many that simply damn CNN’s actions like this one:
Look, what Trump did was wrong, but one has to wonder if this was the right hill to die on. Particularly after a Republican congressional candidate literally attacked a real journalist last month. He won the election by the way.
CNN has displayed overt illiteracy of internet culture, but even worse, they may have catalyzed the unraveling of the foundation of the free press in the United States of America.
What’s the worst that could happen?
It’s no secret that the Trump administration has a contentious relationship with the media, even going so far as declaring them the, “enemy of the American people.” Only seven months in and cameras are no longer allowed in the daily press briefings, and any news that criticizes Trump’s administration is deemed Fake News. Despite this, the media has continued to thrive. The New York Times and the Washington Post - two outlets typically critical of Trump - have seen their stock prices consistently rise since the election.
In response to this, Trump has said that he’s going to, “open up those libel laws.” This likely concerns anyone who watches international politics as Turkey has been arresting anyone who criticises their president on social media. Yes, the initial target of opening up these libel laws would be the media, but knowing how politicians write bills, there will likely be ambiguous clauses that could seriously affect the American people.
Freedom of speech, though, is one of the most cherished amendments in the U.S constitution, and there will need to be an event that sets it off - an event where a journalistic platform oversteps its bounds and does something wholly unpopular. This could be that event. This could be the Media Reichstag Fire that makes Trump’s war against journalism an official one.
Or we could forget it ever happened in 72 hours. It is 2017.
So in the best case scenario, CNN has entered a battle where they clearly know nothing of the terrain. At worst they've catalyzed the dismantling of journalistic freedom. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.