Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama Hacktivists At It Again...

People tend to think of computer hackers as illegally breaking into systems and wreaking havoc - damaging, stealing, or even completely taking over other people's machines and networks. But the current incarnation of hacktivism is anything but. Today's hacktivism is mostly made up of very legal activities that simply use clever ways to make existing systems work to further the hacktivist's own political goals. And this presidential election campaign is ripe full of examples.

The conservative blog, Newsbusters, reported this morning that Google is actively censoring and shutting down any blogs on its servers that espouse an anti-Obama message. Nevermind for a second that the claim seems completely bogus (after all, since when did shutting down 7 hardly-read blogs in all of cyberspace constitute a vast conspiracy?). Newsbusters almost immediately then corrected itself, stating that the fault, in fact, was not Google's, but rather Obama hacktivists who used Google's anti-spam feature to "trick" Google into freezing the blogs until it could be ascertained whether, indeed, the sites were spam.

What they did was go to the Blogspot addresses found on the site of the NoObama coalition called Just Say No Deal and constantly hit the "mark as spam" link so that Google's Blogger would be flooded with spam warnings. This caused Google/Blogger to freeze the sites marked.

Apparently, this campaign merely took advantage of Google/Blogger's flawed system of finding spam blogs. So, it looks like what we have here is an Obama dirty trick to shut down political opposition.

All of this comes directly on the heels of last week's incident where an Obama hacktivist dropped a "Google Bomb" against John McCain, attempting to manipulate search results to display negative stories when someone searched for the candidate's name.

Again, none of these activities are actually illegal - they are merely clever ways of gaming the system. While they certainly undermine the intended purpose of Google's algorithms, and even run counter to the ideals of democracy, there is little that can be done about it on a practical level - save for Google making internal changes to how it detects spam and determines its search rankings. And that's not exactly a quick fix.

But does any of this even matter? Those Obama hacktivists may have temporarily tricked Google into shutting down seven anti-Obama blogs, but in response, as demonstrated by Newsbusters, conservative bloggers have been flooding cyberspace with a torrent of reporting and their own opinions on the story. In the end, who has really won the day?

If there is one lesson we can draw thus far it is simply this: That the rise of the hacktivists in this presidential election campaign is undeniable, and that their powerful will is unrelenting.

What real impact they will eventually have on the electoral outcome, however, is yet to be determined.


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