The dividing line between helpers and dissidents is ambiguous if not arbitrary. Often, a specific issue inspires a community that both aims for socio-political and cultural change, as well as offers support (helper) functions. An example of this could be the YouTube-based It Gets Better project, an  initiative that seeks to offer support for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer youth.

Similarly, there are different modalities of ‘digitally enabled social change’. For example, in their research, scholars Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport suggest this continuum of online activism from e-mobilization to e-tactics to actual e-movements:

2012-12-01 11.52.45

Digital Dissidents for Democracy

In terms of major aspirations of radical structural change, and acts of resistance, we all are familiar with the the  powerful examples of the Arab Spring, and brave individuals and groups (not only “We Are All Malala” but  also “We Are All Khaled Said”). Yet, political Internet activism has long roots, for example in the Mexican Zapatista movement.

Social media have recently brought different opportunities, and challenges, to E-mobilization, E-tactics, and E-movements. Here’s an insightful account by Rasha A. Abdulla,  associate professor in the department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo: The Revolution Will Be Tweeted. Read her account of Egyptian Spring!

2012-06-28 09.16.42Movements have gone global because of digital media. Arguably, the Occupy Movement, for example, has used an interesting mix of communicative tools and media, from hand gestures to online and mobile organizing — but certainly spread around the world because of social media. (Here’s a fascinating account of the birth of the movement). As we know, Occupy Sandy broadened the movement from protesting to doing hands-on disaster relief work. It also spurred a collaborative documentary project.

Other times, social media platforms feature more spontaneous political reactions and protests, such as the infamous YouTube Muhammad video and its tragic aftermath — and the related Twitter response #MuslimRage that followed, as a protest to a mainstream media story  (a condensed account with a great discussion and a slideshow on HuffPost).

Screen shot 2013-11-18 at 10.01.28 PM

[Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/19/opinion/obeidallah-muslims-rage/]

This excellent article from The Guardian showcases an array of examples of political digital humanitarianism (my term, but I’m sure you know where I’m going with it). The blog iRevolution, mentioned in the article, is one of my go-to sources of all things techie assistance from disasters to revolutions.

Media Reformers

But, sometimes, digital platforms are not only tools for democracy, but tools for surveillance by non-democratic regimes (as Evgeny Morozov notes).

And that leads us to a very particular form of digital community-building for social justice, the one by those communities that are concerned about our digital (human) rights, and reforming the media themselves, for a more democratic world (the terms often used are Media Reform and Media Justice).

Here’s a short and simple video I did (for a group of Freshmen students) on digital human rights; here’s a related blog post.

In some cases, and countries, media reform efforts take an organized, official form. An anti-copyright movement transforms into a political party, as in the case of the Pirate Party that is active in numerous countries.

Although internet access and digital divide are often considered as basic questions of infrastructure, and hence most often considered as the responsibility of national governments (and activism seeks to change those policies), there are numerous free wireless and mesh network projects that help underserved communities to gain access.

In other cases, issue-driven global communities are formed to counter corporate-driven Internet. Some advocate for, and create, open source code (see Katrina’s great comment on this as a reply for the Digital Helpers assignment); others wish to create a global community that wants to share their creative work with a self-defined licensing, not by corporate-owned copyright. See the short intro to Creative Commons below:

 

Back to Basics: Internet Freedom

Yet others are fear for diminishing freedom of the Internet itself. Apart from blatant censorship 2012-07-16 13.52.43and dramatic government responses such as the recent one in Syria, there are more ‘subtle’, yet no less important, challenges. Here’s a short video by the journalist/researcher/global internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon (once more — she’s a favourite — in the Oslo Freedom Forum). Using the Nordic telecom company  TeliaSonera as a poignant example, she’s discusses her concern about the ways in which commercial imperatives and business practices may, in fact, endanger free online expression.

Here is an extensive list, compiled by Rebecca, of global and national organizations(communities?),  that work for maintaining the freedom of the networks. (Perhaps you’ll find inspiration from the list for your country case?)

And Personal Democracy Media, an organization of practitioners, scholars, activist, policy-makers already mentioned earllier, offers great video lectures on Net Policy & Activism. The videos showcase how important media policy-making has become in terms of democracy (and possibilities of community-building), and how it thus become a great interest to media-focused activism.

Hacktivism

Yet, there are also are those who wouldn’t be interested in participating in global deliberations, but who use direct digital actions to make their voices heard; those whom some call cyber-terrorists, others hails as freedom fighters: The Anonymous and other hacktivist groups. Here’s a great article by the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman on the nature of the Anonymous as a community — “Our Weirdness is Free”. And here’s a Wikipedia timeline on the activism of The Anonymous.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 3.17.18 PMThese are all concrete examples of the transformative power of digital media. But they still are relatively isolated experiments, digital communities for social justice only in the making. So the question becomes: Are we, postmodern individualist humans, capable of working together for true freedom and equality? Now that we know more about the world, and connect more easily with others, than ever before in human history — can we really accept others? Or are online communities temporary and fleeing constructions?

Technology isn’t good or bad — it is what we make of it. And as one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, the file sharing site that helped to spark the founding of many European Pirate Parties (political parties), notes:

“You can’t beat politics with new technology all the time. Sometimes you have to actually make sure that politics are in line with what people want. A lot of people are giving up on politics and thinking they can solve issues with technology. These kind of arrogant behaviours towards the rest of the society are a bit disgusting,”

Assignment for this week: Video Screening & Blog Post

Content:

  • We are screening this movie because it describes the birth and development of an online community of dissidents (helpers? or criminals? Opinions on that differ.) While today’s assignment is about the ethics of communities, do pay attention to the nature of the community. How does it function? Who leads it? What is the relationship between on- and offline activities?
  • Please read  the aforementioned article by the  Coleman on  the Anonymous  — “Our Weirdness is Free”. And check out the Wikipedia timeline on the activism of The Anonymous.
  • Read also this recent news article on the Anon and the KKK.
  • And, please check out the reading “Handbook for Cyber Dissidents” on Dropbox – practical advise on blogging for those who want to have an impact. It also has a great short section on ethics.
  • Your task: To create a BLOG post either for or against hackers like the Anonymous.
  • Please consider this seriously, as we are living in ambiguous times, legally as well as  ethically-morally: Based on your readings for this session, do we need civil society groups such as the Anon to act as watchdogs, and even as those who implement punishments for wrongdoings? Should there be a universal code of conduct for online communities — rights and responsibilities,  a bit like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you were to name 2 main rights and 2 main responsibilities, what would they be? And what kind of (global) body could monitor compliance to those rules? Include one or some of these issues in your blog post.

Practicalities:

  • Post your thoughts below as a comment. Be patient: if you are commenting here for the first time, as most of you are, I need to approve you and your comment. I might not be online exactly when you post, so you might not see your text immediately. Please note that you can use any name you want when commenting, to maintain anonymity. But, please, use your SJU email as your contact email in the comment so that I can identify you (only I see the email address).
  • Or, if you have your own blog,  or you wish to create a blog, and want to post this assignment there, please do so (bonus!) You can use any blogging platform, (Tumblr, Medium, etc…).  If you decide to do that, just post the link to your blog below (or on Facebook, if you don’t want the link to be public via this post).
  • The Handbook describes how to start a WordPress blog (such as this one). Here are some more thoughts about good blog posts
  • Due by 11/13, midnight.

{ICM820} Digital Dissidents

20 thoughts on “{ICM820} Digital Dissidents

  1. The group Anonymous’ beginning was humble, outrageous, but humble nonetheless. The members of the group didn’t recognize their power until the Church of Scientology threatened the use of a free internet. Once they mobilized and came from behind the computer screen member of Anonymous recognized their power. They recognized that they could use their skills to hack for the betterment of humans across the globe and they used their numbers which proved their physical power. Although the measures they are are often extreme, playful and sometimes vulgar they not only showcased the power of the internet but were able to retain their liberty of free speech and information.

    With all of this said, the culture of hacktivism is a necessity especially in the growing amount of people using the internet as well as the increasing global interconnectivity we are witnessing. These watchdogs were valuable to the Egyptians during the overthrow of their government. Even when their internet was completely shut off the Anonymous group found a way to still spread awareness and keep Egypt connected. Many have complained that this group hacks into programs and can obtain information that will jeopardize the safety of internet users as they shut down the websites of VISA, MasterCard and a plethora of others. Yet, if these anonymous people were malicious in their intent, couldn’t they have used their skills to steal millions? Couldn’t they have used their skills to steal peoples identities? They could of, but they didn’t. This shows that their morale is high and their skills are being used strictly to end the harassment of everyone’s right to obtain information and to speak freely. Sometimes to even end the governmental harassment that people face. It can be looked as an internet check and balance system that Americans use in their governmental structure.

    If I do not see an issue with the work of these watchdogs, then having an universal code of conduct would directly contradict my previous statements. The mission of this organized group of people is to set truth free, sometimes by any means necessary, not saying that those means are always correct! They also want to keep the internet as a space free of rules and regulation. Therefore an implemented code of conduct would only create another reason for the anonymous members to hack. Due to the fact that the internet is a vast universe of knowledge, I do not think that there would be a body capable enough to govern it. Even if one were to try, the internet enables the users to create, meaning create a way to get around the governing body. No matter how strong the firewall, someone will be able to break through it. For the online world is only as strong and intelligent as the person using it.

    I think that it would be to our benefit to see how the usage of online communities and websites continue to develop over time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comprehensive comment! I would like to evoke some conversation on this theme, based on your and Molly’s contribution: “This shows that their morale is high and their skills are being used strictly to end the harassment of everyone’s right to obtain information and to speak freely.” Indeed, the Anonymous are an anomaly on that they are not trying to capitalize on their activities on the Net. Yet… How about democratic decision-making and a due legal process? Many stakeholders consider the Anon’s actions outrageous — what are the rights of Visa or Mastercard? They can’t sue an anonymous group. How tolerant are we to Anon’s renegade acts because we feel the legal, societal system is broken? We are OK when a faceless community acts on our behalf?

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  2. I am writing this post in favor of hacktivism simply because it is a way of ensuring truth within our society, and that is something we desperately need.

    The word “hacktivism” receives a bad reputation. There have been individuals or small groups who have broken off from the mainstream of overall do-gooders, such as sub-groups of “Anonymous,” mentioned in the film “We Are Legion.” They took trolling, pranks, etc. to another level by hacking into random bank accounts for example, simply because they could. These, unfortunately, are the examples that resonate the longest in most minds. However, all-in-all, I believe that individuals like those who have written the history of hacktivism are necessary in our modern society in order to ensure justice and preserve human rights.

    We have to look at all the good hacktivism has done first, before analyzing the tactics too closely – from Wikileaks sharing information on the rulers of our societies that we otherwise would not have known, to the aiding of rebels in Egypt and attempts to get internet restored there when the government shut it down. The vast majority of hacktivists seem to be in it for the reward of justice and prevailing truth. Egypt was a violent example, and one that caused emotion in all of the Anonymous members interviewed in “We Are Legion.” However, in my opinion, one of the biggest positives of hacktivism is a more peaceful form of protesting – when I say peaceful I mean it as an alternative to physical violence. I make note of this simply because some would find the tactics of hacktivism not so peaceful, for example the many times that they caused financial ruin or wrecked the reputations of their chosen opponents. Hacktivism has also inspired (somewhat) peaceful protesting to take place on large scales, in numerous countries, because it unites people from all over the world.

    Hacktivism is very much like a modern act of civil disobedience – we cannot have expected our technologies to progress without changes in ALL of the things we do. If we want to keep developing new technologies, they must include all “activities,” not just hand-picked ones.

    The fact that hacktivists were reprimanded for taking down MasterCard and PayPal for refusing to fund Wikileaks, when they were allowed to be used on KKK websites, is an outrage. It is exactly the reason why we need hacktivists. Legal complications and the threat of (highly disproportionate) punishment can be scary, but the stronger the movement remains, the more chance there is of changing this part of it. Also, as we learned in the “Handbook for Social Dissidents,” that there are technical ways of getting around censorship and ensuring things such as your personal email are truly private.

    Trolling is a way of challenging viewpoints and starting conversations – that is until one end of the discussion loses their cool. However, without trolls or opposing viewpoints on the internet, individuals may be encouraged to think a certain way simply because someone told it as such. If we want to grow as a society, then conversations must continue taking place. Again, as we have learned throughout this course, the erasure of spatial boundaries allows for conversation and community building. We have also learned that many are looking for someone to voice their similar ideas first before they will join in – anonymous boards allow for free discussion and the power of digital communities to grow. I definitely see this unifying nature of hacktivism as a positive and progressive step for society.

    I do not think there should be a universal code of conduct on the Internet, but that the Internet should be a free space for all to speak their minds and do as they please. Also, I do not believe there is a way of successfully controlling a tool used all over the world by billions of people, all ruled by different governments. Just like we have seen with Egypt, hacktivists and their networks will find a way.

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    • My comment is a duo of comments, to you and Alexa. You write: “I believe that individuals like those who have written the history of hacktivism are necessary in our modern society in order to ensure justice and preserve human rights.” Once could perhaps claim that the Anon is redefining some rights. But they are also extremely powerful, in their anonymity and their skill to master hacking — they can independently declare cyber-wars as they can do what most official institutions, or countries, can’t. See how they are also nation-less, borderless, location-less? Is it OK they act globally; against ISIS, Scientology, and KKK? Is it OK they don’t follow any international, national, or even internal codes of conduct but rely on anarchy as their governance model? Is it OK we can’t ask them to be accountable because we don’t know who they are? These are naturally complex questions. But they are slightly different than those we might have posed to individuals and groups exercising civil disobedience in the decades past. There’s always the question of breaking the law in order to support justice. But perhaps the punishment of hacktivism is so severe because the degree of anonymity is unheard of previously, and because the scope of their actions is so great. (Note that I don’t mean to disregard the positive aspects of hacktivism. I merely wish to illustrate that as communities hackers are a new breed, beyond physical social order, as we know it.)

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  3. I am writing this post in favor of hacktivism simply because it is a way of ensuring truth within our society, and that is something we desperately need.

    The word “hacktivism” receives a bad reputation. There have been individuals or small groups who have broken off from the mainstream of overall do-gooders, such as sub-groups of “Anonymous,” mentioned in the film “We Are Legion.” They took trolling, pranks, etc. to another level by hacking into random bank accounts for example, simply because they could. These, unfortunately, are the examples that resonate the longest in most minds. However, all-in-all, I believe that individuals like those who have written the history of hacktivism are necessary in our modern society in order to ensure justice and preserve human rights.

    We have to look at all the good hacktivism has done first, before analyzing the tactics too closely – from Wikileaks sharing information on the rulers of our societies that we otherwise would not have known, to the aiding of rebels in Egypt and attempts to get internet restored there when the government shut it down. The vast majority of hacktivists seem to be in it for the reward of justice and prevailing truth. Egypt was a violent example, and one that caused emotion in all of the Anonymous members interviewed in “We Are Legion.” However, in my opinion, one of the biggest positives of hacktivism is a more peaceful form of protesting – when I say peaceful I mean it as an alternative to physical violence. I make note of this simply because some would find the tactics of hacktivism not so peaceful, for example the many times that they caused financial ruin or wrecked the reputations of their chosen opponents. Hacktivism has also inspired (somewhat) peaceful protesting to take place on large scales, in numerous countries, because it unites people from all over the world.

    Hacktivism is very much like a modern act of civil disobedience – we cannot have expected our technologies to progress without changes in ALL of the things we do. If we want to keep developing new technologies, they must include all “activities,” not just hand-picked ones.

    The fact that hacktivists were reprimanded for taking down MasterCard and PayPal for refusing to fund Wikileaks, when they were allowed to be used on KKK websites, is an outrage. It is exactly the reason why we need hacktivists. Legal complications and the threat of (highly disproportionate) punishment can be scary, but the stronger the movement remains, the more chance there is of changing this part of it. Also, as we learned in the “Handbook for Social Dissidents,” that there are technical ways of getting around censorship and ensuring things such as your personal email are truly private.

    Trolling is a way of challenging viewpoints and starting conversations – that is until one end of the discussion loses their cool. However, without trolls or opposing viewpoints on the internet, individuals may be encouraged to think a certain way simply because someone told it as such. If we want to grow as a society, then conversations must continue taking place. Again, as we have learned throughout this course, the erasure of spatial boundaries allows for conversation and community building. We have also learned that many are looking for someone to voice their similar ideas first before they will join in – anonymous boards allow for free discussion and the power of digital communities to grow. I definitely see this unifying nature of hacktivism as a positive and progressive step for society.

    I do not think there should be a universal code of conduct on the Internet, but that the Internet should be a free space for all to speak their minds and do as they please. Also, I do not believe there is a way of successfully controlling a tool used all over the world by billions of people, all ruled by different governments. Just like we have seen with Egypt, hacktivists and their networks will find a way.

    (Sorry if this posted twice – I was not sure if it worked the first time)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hacktivism, the latest form of online activism, has been steadily increasing in the last few years. Anonymous, a group of hacktivists and modern day vigilantes, vows to go against anyone or anything that tries to censor the Internet. Their attacks on the Church of Scientology, Fox News, among others gained coverage worldwide catapulting the issue of hacktivism into the spotlight. Personally, I agree with the idea of using the Internet to protest censorship and oppression. I do not, however, agree with some of the early tactics used by Anonymous simply to create havoc. Since Anonymous doesn’t have a defined leadership, each member has the opportunity to do whatever they want under the group’s name. In the beginning, some took this opportunity to troll sites and people for the fun of it. The moment of realization the group could stand for something more meaningful, occurred as described in “We Are Legion”, when Anons met in various cities around the world to protest against Scientology. This moment made them feel like they weren’t alone, like they had the power to create something that stood for a bigger cause. Since the hacks against Scientology, the group has targeted many entities known to be racist and deviant. The KKK has been in the eye of Anonymous, who has vowed to exposed clan secrets and list of members. In many occasions, the KKK has justified their bigot actions under the freedom of speech and for the same reason; I believe hacktivism is a form of freedom of speech. What is deemed legal or not comes from the government, but does not always coincide with the values shared by everyone in society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you make an interesting observation about the moment in which the Anonymous really became a community of social action — the demonstration, a physical act. An increasing body of research shows that the strongest community-building strategy is to mix it up with virtual and physical, especially when we think about political communities or communities of social change.

      Another wise point: FoE is a beautiful principle but also a very complex one (hate speech? child porn?) and can be abused. It’s no wonder that the more we can communicate online, the more we also challenge FoE and its limits.

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  5. The rise of Anonymous, and other hacktivist groups and digital dissidents that challenge the socio-political status quo, calls to question the importance of leadership and collective ethics in societies bound by cyber networks.
    Cultural anthropologist, Gabriella Coleman, writes in “Our Weirdness is Free,” of the nature of Anonymous’ activities as “disparate and paradoxical” which has “tapped into a deep disenchantment… without positing a utopian vision—or any overarching agenda—in response.” This perspective highlights the nuances of disruptive innovation which functions with little to no leadership, but yet, contributes to efforts of social good through cyberspace. In connection with digital activism and protest, these efforts culminate into community organizing in, and beyond, the web. Several operations, aimed at dismantling the KKK, ISIS, and even international paedophile rings, are prime examples of benevolent collective action. These decentralized endeavors tune into the hacktivist ideal, with a focus on human rights, without a need for traditional leadership. However, this also leads to challenges in ethical accountability, as revealed through instances in which Anonymous releases incorrect information (OpFerguson), or when hackers operate under the banner of Anonymous while contributing to cyber terrorism.
    Critics and defenders argue about the weight of Anonymous. The appeal and success that was born from the collective anonymity of 4chan contains serious flaws in deciphering what disruptions are to be considered socio-political protest and civil disobedience, which belong to a network of trolls, and which are mere crimes.
    Though it’s clear that traditional leadership is not embraced by Anonymous, organized responsibility and ethical values are critical in maintaining accountability among collective efforts, whether for social good or otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good response and a nice reference from Coleman: We are indeed facing a growing sense of disenchantment and the Anonymous is one response; as, in many ways, is ISIS (but in another context entirely). I also appreciate you bringing up the challenge of faceless, anonymous collectives. As we have seen with some other viral phenomena (Obama’s birth certificate…) the danger of misinformation spreading fast is very real. This does related to the lack of governance and control mechanisms. Ofter social media spheres correct themselves, but sometimes the info is so contested and wide-spread, that there is little to do to get the truth out there.

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  6. When will it stop? Do we as digital communities have the capability to stop it? The members of the Hacktivism or Anonymous groups warn that “The Beginning Is Near”  
    Hacktivism has become a phenomenon within the world of the Internet. They are a community of people that troll, threatened, and invade individuals. They are seriously a chaotic set of members that justify their agendas based on political and social purposes. They can be stop and it can start with us. I believe that if all of the digital communities that are against this group can get together and partner with members from within out group who also work for the same big corporations that they are hacking and shut this movement down. They are selfish and justifying actions for their own good. There are other ways to fight against corporations and prove peaceful points. If it doesn’t stop it can only get worse because they have no set structure. It’s to many members to control. And with them being already anonymous the members can turn against each other and anonymously target each other. They represent chaotic freedom that can only lead to destruction as time proceeds.  
    I do think we could learn something from them because they are fighting for change. It’s just the way they are going about it is wrong. The members believe that they are not breaking the law. I have watched a few interviews with the members and they all have different strategies and beliefs. A community with no proper structure and scattered goals and objectives can’t sustain for a long time. They have a sense of influence as a structure but they don’t have a leader and every day the objective is different. The members have no security and are liable for their own actions.  They target big corporations and governments because they believe the government is already corrupt. Some of these members are just as young as 15 years old. They are vulnerable and looking for trouble. I believe that same vulnerability will be the reason why the government will strike back and punish them. If caught, the fines can be up to a 100,000 fine and even 5 years in prison; It can be considered a capital offense. 
    Ultimately our private information becomes at risk too when these group target corporations that we are associated with. I think these groups of nameless people can have this much power online for very long. As new realms of technology develop it will get easier & easier to track them. I think this is what is terrorizing for them because ultimately one day they will be found. 

    Liked by 1 person

    • “They represent chaotic freedom that can only lead to destruction as time proceeds.” This remains to be seen but I do think you are onto something — we have already seen divisions and bad and good fractions… And the lack of leadership often leads to short-lived communities.

      That said, the Anon are still very much alive, probably because of the disenchantment Oscar mentioned. And, in my opinion, you are wise to suggest that we should study some of their strategy-free strategies, that is, the new ways of communities are created and the ways in which they can co-create so effectively. The Anon produces an incredible amount of coding and related work — just think about it. They are superbly effective and skilled — and doing it because of the cognitive surplus, whether for good or merely for LOLz.

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  7. Today’s world is a complicated place with necessary rules, therefore, without these rules there would be chaos. I do not agree with organizations such as the Anonymous and other hacktivist groups. They are considered one of the biggest threats to the government, many agencies and the public in general. It is fair to say that most of the people involved in these types of organizations are trying to “do the right thing” opposed to “doing things right”. According to the Berghofer’s article “to do the right thing means to make a choice among possibilities in favor of something the collective wisdom of humanity knows to be the way to act. To do things right carries the meaning of efficiency, effectiveness, expertise and the like” (Desmond Berghofer, nd.). Many hacktivist groups want to help people, but the methods and strategies they are using are not the most appropriate. People cannot do right by doing wrong. For example, Aaron Swartz downloaded millions of academic articles from the digital archive JSTOR. He wanted to make the academic research free online for the benefit of all. However, his actions were illegal, and he was facing thirteen felony counts, fifty years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines (Christie Thompson, 2013). Another example is the case of the false list of members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The information was hacked from a Twitter account and made public. This type of false allegation could cost someone’s their reputation, job or worse. For that reason and many more, criminal acts, fraud and related activity in connection with computers are regulated under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Those types of legal wrongdoings deserves a punishment equal to the crime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great references to Berghofer’s ethical leadership, and also to the case of Aaron Swartz. Following Oscar & Zeli, too, the openness and extreme freedom of expression as the original philosophy of the Internet (as some claim) is clearly clashing with the “real world”. These digital dissidents are disillusioned and using their skills to disrupt the status quo. They would claim that their actions are justified because law has not met the requirements of the new digital era. Yet, as the case of the Anonymous demonstrates the casualties can be severe. It will be interesting to see if the war on ISIS will somehow change the Anonymous and make them more responsible and cooperative.

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  8. There was one specific moment in “We Are Legion” that really resonated with me. It was when hacktivism was called the modern form of protest. The mid-twentieth century had sit-ins, and, now, the first half of the twenty-first century has groups like Anonymous.

    From everything I learned about hacktivist groups — both the good and the bad — I think it’s fair to describe them as perpetrators of chaos-infused activism. The MasterCard and PayPal hacks prove the latter. It was such a subtle move; had enormous consequences; yet was unique in the fact that it went after the entity (MasterCard and PayPal) that enabled the socio-political beast (the KKK). You can liken it to taking out the “middle man.”

    And that’s exactly what hacktivism is: creating radical routes to social justice. And when you take that into consideration, it’s simple to see how hacktivism is an advanced version of protest. After all, weren’t sit-ins considered radical in the 1950’s?

    And despite the constant controversy surrounding hacktivist groups, I do believe they’re a necessary component of digital society. If transparency is one of the hallmarks of a healthy community, then hacktivists are the perfect watchdog. I don’t think they should be overly active, but I do believe they come in great handy when the first line of watchdogs (journalists) are unable to bring certain political/social/economical/etc. issues to light.

    My belief that hacktivists shouldn’t be overly active comes from hacktivism’s immense spectrum. Groups like Anonymous can do something defined as ‘chaoticily good’ one second, and scatter evil the next. That capriciousness is what makes hacktivist groups both a critical tool and a major threat.

    However, because of the group-governing hacktivism model fostered by Anonymous, I feel at ease by the fact that an entire community is making decisions on when to initiate aggression rather than a select few. And don’t get me wrong, I do understand that it’s impossible to guarantee complete trust from the community-decision makers, but I think the potential value outweighs the risk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Solid argumentation — you see both sides but consider the positives to overweigh the negatives. Hacktivism as an advanced form of protest is a great phrase — but I’d like to add that the power of influence of hackers is ever so much greater than of anyone participating in a sit-in. Think about bringing down Sony’s website (or creating circumvention tools for Egyptian dissidents). In addition, you can shield your privacy quite well. That’s the difference: a global, faceless network of computer savvy people DECLARE WAR against the most violent current political-religious movement; without guns but with keyboards. I personally think this is a metaphor for a bigger power-shift from mass to digital media era.

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  9. According to Gabriella Coleman’s article, “Our Weirdness Is Free,” Anonymous is, “a name employed by various groups of hackers, technologists, activists, human rights advocates, and geeks.” It is the manifestation an online community of dissidents whose goals, ideas, and actions are both complimentary and contrasting.

    Some question whether the members are helpers or criminals. Either definition is suitable depending on which member(s) is/are acting at a given time. If one is to think of Anonymous as a single entity, the word vigilante comes to mind. A vigilante is defined as, “a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate. This definition seems to be the most adequate.

    However, maybe it’s better to think of Anonymous as a banner for a collective of cyber vigilantes; one with a structure that is fluid as opposed to hierarchal. This would explain their seemingly dubious goals and varying actions that range from, what Coleman describes as, “fearsome but trivial pranks, to technological support for revolutionary movements…to audacious plans to take down the Mexican drug cartels.”

    Anonymous functions by allowing multiple hacktivist to collaborate, which may lead to large-scale protests against traditional institutions, corporations, states, and political parties. Different protests and different ways of protesting reflect the varying interests of multiple branches of Anonymous. However, one linking factor is that the protests seem to be geared toward social injustices that infringe upon freedom of speech and human equality. Project Chanology, Operation Payback, and Arab Spring are examples of Anonymous’s mobilization of protests and support of protests that attempt to take a stand against social injustices.

    Again, there are no leaders, members can branch off or act alone. Because of this, Anonymous’s actions are dependent on the members acting at any given time. It does not matter whether they are helpers, criminals, pranksters, activists, vigilantes or anarchists. The collective of dissidents known as Anonymous has become a necessary force in the fight against social injustice and the fight for freedom of expression on the web.

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    • Leaderless, fluid communities of all kinds of vigilantes with complementary and contrasting views, goals and actions. I think it is interesting that your post, the last in this thread, SUMMARIZES the very nature of the Anonymous. I would now like to take that summary and apply it to (political) online activism in general. Couldn’t this be a description for many a hashtag community that emerges? United by a hashtag but coming from many different standpoints; sometimes even using the hashtag for an opposite purpose: http://mashable.com/2013/10/19/hijacked-hashtags/ .. Following up on Zeli, what other general take-aways can we find from the case of the Anon?

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  10. Groups like Anonymous have used the power of a digital community to begin to change the political and cultural landscape of the world. Their use of hacktivism is overthrowing Presidents, acting as a watchdog for corporations, and recently to fight terrorist activity. The rise of Anonymous is very appropriate and only possible for this digital age we’re living in. To be able to anonymously express opinion and create change from behind a keyboard is exactly the type of activism that many have criticized recently. With that being said, Anonymous is successful in what they do. Most forms of digital activism can be characterized as slacktivism but anonymous is anything but and uses their ability to create a digital blitzkrieg of sorts.

    Vigilantes–like Anonymous—have always been viewed negatively by the government no matter how much good they do (see Bernie Goetz and Batman). Taking the law into your own hands is, however, viewed as something that the public enjoys and benefits from. In this case we are benefiting from their exposure of corporations and governments poor behavior. But at what point is the hacktivisim going too far? Are lives being ruined that don’t need to be ruined? Is this disruption good for the world? It is a very difficult balance to keep.

    Although they hide behind masks and computer screens their power cannot be underestimated. The same goes for their intentions; their actions might look brash and unnecessary from the outside world but their intentions are seemingly nothing less than good. It may be hard to see but this form of hacktivism has roots in altruism like Yochai Benkler hinted at in his article “Sharing Nicely.” For now I’ll have to say that Anonymous is doing a good job at what it is trying to do, being a disrupter. Their altruistic roots and desire to keep the governments, or any group, from gaining too much power is enough to justify their rough ways.

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