The Shame of the "Anonymous" Protests...
When my friend Andre brought up this topic yesterday during the Super Bowl, it seemed a clear indication of just how amazingly far this story has spread.
Last week, a group calling itself "Anonymous" announced that it would stage international protests against the Church of Scientology on February 10th. You might remember a few weeks ago that a promotional video of Tom Cruise was leaked to the public in which he espouses his Scientology beliefs in a jargon-loaded manner that was the immediate subject of popular ridicule. Well since then, the Church of Scientology has filed lawsuits against YouTube, Gawker.com, and other video-sharing sites for (what else?) copyright infringement.
"Anonymous" views these lawsuits as a violation of free speech on the Internet, arguing that it is not copyright infringement if the video is newsworthy - a well-recognized "Fair Use" exception in the law. As a result, "Anonymous" has not only put out a call to action for massive international shows of protest on Feb. 10th, but it has also already led denial-of-service attacks on Scientology websites, gotten participants to make prank calls to Church of Scientology centers, and has carried out real-world protests or raids outside Scientology buildings. Some people have even taken so much pride in their disruptive activities that they have posted their exploits on YouTube.
What observations can we draw from this series of events?
First, "Anonymous" is using despicable tactics that only label themselves to the rest of the world as anarchic cowards. Protests in support of a cause are one thing, but committing illicit acts that can only be characterized as juvenile in nature give observers the impression that these are not political activists fighting for free speech, but rather a group of maniacs who are using their computer hacking skills to disruptive ends while they sit back in the comfort of their homes ANONYMOUSLY to ensure there will be no repercussions, probably laughing at the havoc they're wreaking.
What these wannabe hacktivists need to understand is that such tactics are completely counter-productive. By undermining their credibility, they do more to harm their cause than to help it. Also, there is this little problem of hypocrisy with a group that claims to be fighting for free speech by taking down websites that profess a different point of view from their own.
Second, and this is what's most ironic, the cause itself is actually a just one. Lawsuits claiming copyright infringement - most often under the guise of ominously intimidating "cease and desist" letters - have become the de facto tool of media regulators in cyberspace. The Church of Scientology's lawsuit, as well as YouTube's appeasement, is shameful, and only supports the case for badly needed legislative copyright reform.
It's just a pity that it's the maniacs in the movement who've most prominently taken up the banner of the cause.