Blog /Behold the Dawn of Citizen-as-Hacktivist

October 02, 2010 00:50 +0000  |  Activism Anarchy Copyright Technology TED 4

Q: How long will this attack go on for?

A: There is no time frame. We will keep going until we stop being angry.

Something really fascinating is happening right now. Thousands of people, pissed off at law firms and media conglomerates for persecuting individuals with multi-million dollar file sharing lawsuits are fighting back. They're using their combined efforts to attack and take down the websites of the media bullies and their proxies (their law firms) and they're succeeding at every turn.

The tactic being used is called DDoS, which in layman's terms is essentially hammering a website from multiple targets as to render it unable to communicate properly with legitimate visitors. The result is that the site will slow to a crawl, and in some cases go completely offline as the server buckles under the load. In one of the more advanced cases, the attackers grabbed 350MB of email from one unscrupulous law firm in the UK and published it on the Pirate Bay for all the world to see.

And who are the perpetrators of these attacks? Nobody knows. They are "Anonymous", the horde of pissed-off people, tired of being persecuted for participating in our Shared Culture. More importantly though, they've gone on the offencive against those who have gotten used to treating the public like an ATM.

This is just the beginning, but it's an exciting first step. The Internet has allowed groups to collectively organise, and to do things no individual or big city law firm could ever hope to accomplish on their own. Now that the tools are becoming more ubiquitous, it's inevitable that these sorts of actions will increase both in popularity and in scale.

Imagine being able to download a tiny program to anonymously contribute the computational power of your desktop, and the bandwidth of your internet connection to help destroy Royal Dutch Shell's communication network, or hack the RIAA's VPN. The possibilities are both awesome and terrifying, but I'm confident that the anarchy it produces will lead to a more egalitarian world.

It's interesting then, that on the evening I'd set aside to write about this phenomenon, I discovered this excellent TED talk about the differences between institutional organisations and collaborative ones. The talk is about five years old, but couldn't be more relevant:


Karen Fung
2 Oct 2010, 5:46 p.m.  | 

I'd like to ask you to elaborate, if it's not too onerous:

I'm confident that the anarchy it produces will lead to a more egalitarian world.

How did you come to this belief/confidence?

2 Oct 2010, 11:17 p.m.  | 

I'll try to explain my thinking.

Sharing of ideas and experiences in a medium like the Internet is inherently equalising. Where there once was one voice, dictating who was right, or popular, or evil, we now have a multitude of voices, each with their own biases and ideologies. This scares the hell out of organisations that have placed their faith in the single unified voice paradigm, and since no one really knows what lay beyond that framework, I think it's safe to say that we're looking at some serious cultural chaos in our near future.

As for why I think that the this period of anarchy will result in some semblance of a more egalitarian society, I guess that it's part faith, part observation of what came before:

We used to be under the thumb of the church: one voice, one truth. Since it controlled the the books, the strongest record of our culture and history, its power over the minds of the public was near absolute, with descension limited to town hall meetings and the intellectual elite who could read. When the printing press changed all that, the general public gained more independence from the church, whose power was significantly diminished.

Now with the Internet allowing the public to conduct ad-hoc hacktivism, we're seeing the power distribution shift again. Where once there were corporate superpowers, we'll soon see armies of stay at home parents and university students taking action to change something they think needs changing. There's going to be more power in the hands of the people, and the Powers that Be are going to fight it like crazy. It's the equalising effects of power re-distribution and it's going to be exciting.

11 Oct 2010, 9:23 a.m.  | 

It's not clear to me if you understand the big-picture idea of Anonymous and their relation to 4chan.

Here's the wikipedia link, for verifiable info:

And here's the much more fun, Dramatica link, for context:

12 Oct 2010, 4:55 a.m.  | 

I figured that I had a pretty good idea who Anonymous was, but that second URL confirmed it:

Anonymous is not a person, nor is it a group, movement or cause: Anonymous is a collective of people with too much time on their hands, a commune of human thought and useless imagery. A gathering of sheep and fools, assholes and trolls, and normal everyday netizens. An anonymous collective, left to its own devices, quickly builds its own society out of rage and hate.

Essentially, Anonymous is a collective of angry people who have recently turned their rage toward a few rather deserving individuals.

Now I didn't mean to give you the impression that I felt that Anonymous was somehow going to lead us into this future of power re-distribution, no. Rather I point to them as a strong first step in that direction. Individually, the members of Anonymous are just a bunch of angry people, powerless to affect the corporations and individuals they feel are deserving of that anger. However the Internet has allowed these individuals to exert a collective force against intended targets. They are self-organising and collectively acting with considerable power and that, from an academic perspective is awesome.

The next step is for someone to make the tools for such action more accessible so that the less technical among us can participate should we so desire, and that's going to happen -- soon. Operation Payback is only the beginning.

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