Monday, December 13, 2010

When Hacktivists Become Anarchists...

The Wikileaks story just won't go away.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Phase I involved somebody leaking 250,000 classified U.S. State Department documents and posting them to the Wikileaks website.

Phase II was the U.S. government's response - attempting to shut down Wikileaks by launching a cyberattack against the site itself.

Phase III was the response of private American companies like Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal - making it impossible for people to contribute money to Wikileaks through their services.

Phase IV was where things really got interesting - groups of hackers began rallying to Wikileaks defense. Citing freedom of the press and the more nebulous cause of "internet freedom", these hackers retaliated by launching cyberattacks to shut down the websites of Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, etc.

Now we're experiencing Phase V - the public demonizing of all hacktivist groups.

It's extremely important that all of you readers keep a few ideas clear as you filter through all of the various news stories...

First, there is a crucial difference between A) the individual who actually leaked the classified documents versus B) the website where those documents were simply posted. The individual unquestionably committed an illegal act, however, the website - Wikileaks - was simply a forum. Technically, the website didn't even break the law, and many are wondering why it is, exactly, that the New York Times is able to publish the classified content on its front-page without anyone raising an eyebrow while Wikileaks is demonized for doing the same thing. The only fact everyone agrees on is that the individual who leaked the documents committed a crime. Everything else is argumentative.

Second, there is also a crucial distinction between Wikileaks and the group of hackers behind the recent cyberattacks. As the lawyer for Julian Assange - the website's founder - has said repeatedly, neither Wikileaks nor Assange have given any instruction, nor have any affiliation, with the group of hackers known as "Anonymous". What's now occurring in the media is "a deliberate attempt to conflate hacking organizations with WikiLeaks, which is not a hacking organization. It is a news organization and a publisher". Make whatever judgment you want about the Wikileaks website; just remember that the website and this group hackers are two different things.

Third, not all hacktivists are part of this one hacker-group named "Anonymous". Hacktivism, as explained in The Nerfherder on many occasions, is any form of political activism accomplished through computer hacking. Sometimes hacktivists are very noble in their intent like when they assist dissidents in Iran and China evade their authoritarian governments' internet censors. Other times they might simply try little hacking tricks to improve their favorite political candidate's Google ranking. There is nothing wrong, illegal, or immoral about hacktivism, in and of itself. On the contrary, it is often a force for good.

This is why all of you readers should be wary about demonizing all hacktivists because of the actions of this one particular group. "Anonymous" is most famous for its edit war with the Church of Scientology a few years ago. I took a look at how I had described "Anonymous" back then, nearly three years ago, to see how my judgment might have held up to scrutiny. What do you think?

"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.

That description still seems spot-on. Go Nerfherder.


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