Anonymous has retaliated for the suicide of Reddit founder Aaron Swartz with a takeover of the United States Sentencing Commission and says it has infiltrated other government websites. This may be the start of a new tier of hacktivism.
The group threatens to publicize information it has acquired in the process. If this information is related to Swartz's suicide, it will be highly inflammatory. If it's related to the usual run of the mill failures of government agencies to act according to law, it may be ignored but will add more fuel to the growing fury of the public regarding government malpractices.
The TelegraphFamily and friends of Mr Swartz, who helped create Reddit and RSS, say he killed himself after he was hounded by federal prosecutors. Officials say he helped post millions of court documents for free online and that he illegally downloaded millions of academic articles from an online clearinghouse.
Exactly what form that hounding took is unlikely to be made public, much as it should be and would be in any real democracy. If the treatment of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange is any guide, it’s likely to have included a “legal assault” in the same general mode. Swartz was a pretty good indicator of the current legal environment, and his death has simply inflamed a large section of the internet activist community.
The old vs. the new
There’s more than a hint of clash of cultures here. This is a cultural war. Whether anyone likes it or not, the basic drive of the internet generation is for transparency and open government and society. This generation may have crappy music, lousy drugs, and a stunningly banal suburban perspective, but it’s not sufficiently naïve to do nothing about intolerable situations, however haphazardly.
The fundamental culture of government is the exact opposite. This is a culture of secrecy which has successfully opposed traditional drives for transparency for decades.
Anonymous is another case in point. The reaction to this diverse but highly motivated group varies from pure hatred to admiration. Anonymous is a group which could not have existed in previous generations, and the apparent lack of effort at comprehension of the actions of this group is the common denominator in mainstream media response.
If the old doesn’t understand the new, the new doesn’t quite grasp the sheer depth of expedient corruption of the old. Any new cause will be evaluated on its impact on power groups, not on its merits. The hippies found that out the hard way in the blanket hostility which still produces “hippie jokes” and uses the term as a form of abuse.
(Not that it matters to old or new hippies, but it does produce a propaganda bandwagon which all “community leaders” will ride in their quest for publicity and being seen to be supporting law and order. Amazing how people can base whole careers on things that don't exist, isn't it?)
The old culture is diametrically opposed to democratic processes, effectively criminal and anti-human in its operations. Being supposedly “run” by an inept collection of trivial minded, transient politicians is a perfect cover. The real power is elsewhere.
Anonymous has been under close scrutiny for years by this culture. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of hacktivism, it has become the benchmark for online activists. It’s also equated regularly and inaccurately with “cyber terrorism” and “cybercrime” by the routine defense mechanisms of the old culture. These convenient labels simply create jingles for redneck media and divert attention from the targets of Anonymous actions.
On the NYT link, at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a range of information about Anonymous. You’ll also see that Anonymous has a range of peripheral supporters which vary in their motives and can add what I’d call some digressions from the general thrust of Anonymous. These digressions can be counterproductive. The attack on Westboro Church, that cradle of rational thought and implacably anti-American behaviour, resulted in Twitter suspending Anonymous for a while. The old culture was able to spread its message while denying access to public communications to the new, in effect.
Says a lot for the connections of Westboro, and nothing good about Twitter’s understanding of itself being manipulated. Twitter has come under fire on a regular basis for its open-ended communication capacity. Phony Tweets from supposed Anonymous supporters receive credibility when they deserve none while real Tweets are spun according to traditional recipes. Sound familiar?
In a situation where a publicly despised and thoroughly loathed group was under attack, a rationale was also in place to penalize Anonymous, rather than look at the subject of its actions. This has been the standard response to Wikileaks and other groups exposing government actions.
The formula for this type of PR management is that anything but the subject will become the headlines. In much the same way that Manning is considered the sole subject for conversation regarding that case while incredible lapses of security are ignored. The fact that the average supermarket has better security in place than the US military is ignored is highly suspicious and is a typical case of media manipulation which proves that any form of real democracy is an endangered species. Anything done online is deemed guilty by media lapdogs and has to prove its innocence.
Either the Manning leak was allowed in full knowledge of where the information was likely to go as an excuse for an attack on Wikileaks and similar organizations, or the US military hasn’t read a word about cyber security in 30 years. Which is more likely?
This is the real culture war. The old is attacking the new without understanding (or even attempting to understand) any possible positives in clearing out the senile deadwood of the last few generations. The new is attacking the visible elements of the old, but not attacking the source of the problems.
The public needs to make up its mind. There’s nothing inherently wrong with exposing corruption, incompetence, and criminal actions of government. It’s very much in the public interest to do so. At the moment, exposure is hitting constant obstruction. Whistleblowers, the old culture equivalent of hacktivists, are “heroes” after the event, but treated like public enemies prior to a positive result. They’re certainly not encouraged. The response to whistleblowing is usually inadequate and rarely results in decisive shutdowns of types of offense. Corporate crime, for example, proceeds on its merry way regardless of massive fines and convictions. It’s a cultural norm, and that culture has to go.
Future generations will have few options. To tolerate corruption and crime is to encourage them, as we all know much too well. Given the nature of pseudo-democracy as it now is and its bloodstained record of the past, the next generation may be facing far worse.
In future, publicizing information may be the only way to get results against entrenched secrecy and corruption. The old culture is digging its own grave by refusing to acknowledge the major issues hacktivist groups regularly expose while actually protecting the practices which do it so much damage on an hourly basis.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com