The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Maybe Those Anonymous Internet Trolls Aren’t as Anonymous as They Thought

Before we dive into what’s left of a short work week, a quick thought: Yesterday, a couple hundred million Americans gathered at parades, ballparks, backyard barbecues, harbors, marathons, pools, and other locations to celebrate Independence Day.

Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and every other anti-American extremist would have loved to disrupt those events with an attack and mar the day. And they couldn’t. The Department of Homeland Security gets a lot of grief, sometimes deservedly so, in part because their public face is the men and women in blue who are touching your junk in search of a non-metaphorical concealed weapon. But yesterday — and almost every holiday — DHS, FBI, our armed forces, our intelligence agencies, and police officers across the country did an exceptional job at ensuring everyone had a safe and enjoyable day. Thanks, everybody.

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters?

You’re up to speed on Trump tweeting the video that superimposed the CNN logo atop the head of Vince McMahon, in an old appearance during a professional-wrestling bout in which Trump pretended to beat up McMahon, right?

The cable-news network decided to go looking for the person who created that video, and apparently that person is mortified at the thought of their actual identity being exposed:

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.

Reddit user “HanA**holeSolo” first shared the GIF last Wednesday of Trump pummeling a wrestler with CNN’s logo imposed on his face. CNN could find no earlier instance of the GIF. The GIF was later edited into a video with sound and tweeted by the President on Sunday.

On Reddit, “HanA**holeSolo” took credit for inspiring the tweet. Soon after, “HanA**holeSolo’s” other posts on Reddit, some of which included racist and anti-Semitic imagery, quickly circulated on social media.

Now the user is apologizing, writing in a lengthy post on Reddit that he does not advocate violence against the press and expressing remorse there and in an interview with CNN for other posts he made that were racist and anti-Semitic.

The apology came after CNN’s KFile identified the man behind “HanA**holeSolo.” Using identifying information that “HanA**holeSolo” posted on Reddit, KFile was able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.

On Monday, KFile attempted to contact the man by email and phone but he did not respond. On Tuesday, “HanA**holeSolo” posted his apology on the subreddit /The_Donald and deleted all of his other posts.

Welcome to what could turn into one of the biggest debates of the Trump era: Does an anonymous online troll have the right to remain an anonymous online troll?

This tweet from CNN anchor Christopher Cuomo — quickly deleted — feels more than a little menacing:

A little while back, after Trump wrote a tweet that suggested he may have taped his conversations in the White House with former FBI director James Comey, I argued that Trump’s implied threat was against his own interests. The whole point of “executive privilege” was that the president needed and deserved the most honest, unvarnished advice possible, and ensuring those sorts of honest exchanges meant they had to be kept secret. “Sometimes the right course of action is not the popular one; those who speak to the president may not want their actual perspective revealed to the public.”

Quite a few Trump fans — including those tweeting under pseudonyms! — insisted there was something inherently dishonest about having different public and private positions. I suspect many of those same people will denounce CNN today without recognizing any contradiction in their positions. (I also wonder how many people denouncing CNN today cheered on WikiLeaks after it posted the private e-mails of John Podesta.)

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters? I suspect Silence Dogood would argue yes. I’ll bet Richard Bachman could write a terrifying story about a television network dedicating itself to exposing the worst side of you. I wonder if Joe Klein will cheer for CNN in this circumstance.

This certainly looks like major news network utilizing its considerable resources to expose one of its online critics, a rather petty use of those resources. On the other hand, the sense of shame and regret exhibited by the Reddit commenter is pretty revealing. Deep down, a lot of obnoxious online trolls don’t want their comments and behavior associated with their real identity. They know it’s wrong, and it violates their own conception of who they are, and how they want other people to see them. If you’re doing something that would cause you that much personal and professional ruination if it were ever exposed . . . eh, maybe you shouldn’t do it? (“Maybe just put it in the background there,” as Dr. Oatman would say.)

When I talk to cyber-security professionals, they periodically insist that nothing on the Internet can be made permanently secret. Given enough time and resources, just about anything can be hacked and revealed — even the things you’re absolutely certain are deleted. That online venting had better be worth it, because there’s always that infinitesimal chance that somebody with the know-how and time might decide to figure out who’s behind that clever pseudonym you chose. Maybe the potential exposure of this one Reddit commenter will be a useful cautionary tale.

In the ongoing discussion of the importance of protecting pen names and pseudonyms, Voltaire, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, the Red Baron, Pancho Villa, Che Guevara, John Barron, John Miller, Cat Stevens, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Jay Gatsby could not be reached for comment.

Darker Clouds Gathering over the Korean Peninsula

Is there no military option in North Korea? No, no, it’s just that there is no good military option in North Korea:

The last time the United States is known to have seriously considered attacking the North was in 1994, more than a decade before its first nuclear test. The defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for a “surgical strike” on a nuclear reactor, but he backed off after concluding it would set off warfare that could leave hundreds of thousands dead.

The stakes are even higher now. American officials believe North Korea has built as many as a dozen nuclear bombs — perhaps many more — and can mount them on missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea.

And no, there’s no guarantee that the U.S. could take out all of North Korea’s nukes, because they’re hidden in underground bunkers. So, North Korea could retaliate with any surviving nukes. But what’s even worse is that the Norks don’t even need nukes to inflict devastating damage upon civilians in response:

North and South Korea, separated by the world’s most heavily armed border, have had more than half a century to prepare for a resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. While the North’s weaponry is less advanced, the South suffers a distinct geographical disadvantage: Nearly half its population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including the 10 million people in Seoul, its capital.

“You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border,” said Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.”

North Korea has positioned as many as 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, analysts say, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. END

(Yes, that’s the Robert Kelly from the delightful child-invading BBC interview. Hopefully, his daughter invading his home office is the only invasion Kelly has to deal with in the coming years.)

Checking in with the top U.S. general in South Korea . . . 

BL “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” said General [Vincent K.] Brooks, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.

“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary.”

ADDENDA: It’s the end of the Independence Day holiday and back to the regular schedule at Three Martini Lunch, NRO, Facebook, and probably in the not-too-distant future, the pop-culture podcast . . . 


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