Monday, February 04, 2008

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.
  

4 Comments:

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a long tradition in our society of civil disobedience. I think the initial DDoS attacks fall into this category. If you really read up on project Chanology, you'd understand the DDoS was done merely to gain media attention, which succeeded. Although "the ends do not justify the means" is a good ethical principle, so is "there is an exception to every rule", and in this case, I believe the initial action of anonymous was fully justified. This isn't just about the Tom Cruise video and freedom of speech - this was just the last straw. You should do some research on what Scientology has done, and continues to do, and you would realize the organization is a cancer that needs to be destroyed before it can spread any farther.

xenu dot net is a good place to start.

 
At 7:54 AM, Blogger Rob Domanski said...

In response to the last comment, to say that the organization of Scientology is "a cancer that needs to be destroyed before it can spread any farther" sounds awfully tyrannical.

Wouldn't a free speech advocate take the position that a healthy democratic system needs to maintain an unfettered "marketplace of ideas" in which the best ideas will rise to the top while the worst of them will be exposed for what they truly are?

Again, I'm actually supporting the cause of fighting against the abuse of copyright infringement claims, which does undoubtedly harm free speech and has a significant "chilling effect". However, to take down a website - or, in other words, to CENSOR it - seems to me completely counter-productive to the cause of protecting free speech.

After all, who among us should have the power to decide when someone else or their ideas are a potential "cancer" on society?

 
At 10:07 PM, Anonymous BearDutch said...

What about sites that post instructions for making bombs, best way to rob a bank, how to make crystal meth or Nazi propaganda. Do these fall under censorship? I mention these only because their are many politicians and doctors who think Scientology is a cult that use brainwashing techniques causing harm to their followers.

 
At 2:55 PM, Blogger Rob Domanski said...

I do see the point you are trying to make, Beardutch, however making the publication of certain potentially "harmful" materials illegal (the definition of which is constantly debated) is still a far cry from a private group of anonymous individuals making prank phone calls and raiding offices.

 

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