(MintPress) – The new digital atmosphere that is permeating lives around the world has led to the creation of hacktivism, a new form of activism by which those who are more computer literate than the rest use their brain as a tool, exposing corruption through electronic hacking — both within government and society. And, because it’s a digital operation, hacktivists are able to operate under a veil of secrecy.
Yet there’s debate over whether the activist group serves in the public’s interest or not — the reaction is mixed, as governments across the country have attempted to track down the hacktivists for violating laws, including those relating to national security. Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond faces life in prison for his involvement the Anonymous hacking of Stratfor, a private firm specializing in global intelligence hired by the U.S. government.
But when Anonymous targets the Westboro Church or perpetrators of rape, as was done recently in the case of Ohio football players, the negative public perception of the secretive organization is challenged. To many, they’re the superheroes of the digital age.
Anonymous was even recognized on the highly-anticipated Time magazine list of the world’s 100 most influential people of the year and was named this year by Russia Today as the Most Influential Person of the Year.
A video released on YouTube Jan. 1 by OfficialAnonymousTV1 describes the organization as one intent on fighting and ending tyranny, oppression, conspiracy, corruption and promoting global freedom. In three days, the video generated more than 18,000 pageviews.
And they do it all through digital secrecy, appearing only with the mask of Guy Fawkes, a figure made famous through the movie “V for Vendetta.”
“You can never have complete certainty as to what’s going on, who’s involved,” McGill University anthropologist Gabrielle Coleman told the BBC in 2012.
That’s the beauty of it, at least for hacktivists. For governments attempting to take the ring down, however, it complicates the matter.
The most recent splash made by Anonymous came in the small Ohio town of Steubenville, where two football players at Big Red High School were arrested and charged with rape and kidnap after allegedly taking a 15-year-old girl, who was unconscious — allegedly due to a date rape drug — and subjecting her to rape, over and over again.
Anonymous posted information on Jan. 1 that exposes the larger issue in Steubenville — one that included not just two perpetrators, but many — ranging from additional football players to adult fans. Video obtained by Anonymous of football players bragging about the rape of a “dead” girl was released to the public, along with details obtained from one adult fan’s private email account.
Other information shedding light on a culture of the community, in which football players were protected by coaches, faculty and prominent town leaders, including parents and attorneys, was also released.
In this case, as in all others, Anonymous explains its actions as contributing to the common good, by exposing corruption and offering an avenue of justice for the victims. A post on the website localleaks.blogs.ru states the intent of the release of the files relating to the Steubenville rapes, referring to the Anonymous arm operation, Local Leaks:
“Ever since we launched LocalLeaks in June of 2011, we have received hundreds of leaks. Many of our disclosures have caused us to pause with grief for the victims of corruption or wrongdoing. But nothing has so completely moved the staff of LocalLeaks with such heartbreak as this disclosure has. When we were presented with the copious body of material that is the source of this disclosure, all the LocalLeaks volunteers began working around the clock to organize, analyze, fact-check, verify — and prepare this disclosure for release. First and foremost, our heart and condolences go out to the young lady who was the victim of this brutal and brazen attack, and to her family. We pray that this disclosure can bring them some comfort, and that by bringing a measure of transparency to Steubenville, Ohio perhaps also some real justice to the victim of this horrible crime.”
While Anonymous was certainly pointing fingers at the teenage boys involved in the incident, what they did was something of greater scale, as it opened a debate over whether America has acknowledged the prevalence of rape within the teenage population — and the praise it’s given within certain rings of young men. It broke down the privacy barrier and let the world see what is happening within teenage circles of boys around the country. From that, the nation can begin asking the “why” question: Why is it that such activity continues to take place?
Anonymous, in this case, opened up the dialogue.
Anonymous attacks on government, hired agencies
As proven by its resume of those on the receiving end of attacks, Anonymous doesn’t just stick to government agencies, also including private companies and individuals acting in a corrupt manner.
In January 2012, Anonymous shut down the Department of Justice website, shortly after U.S. federal agents did the same to Megauplaod.com, a file sharing website, supported by some within the music industry, although not Universal Music itself.
In November 2012, Anonymous carried out what it referred to as “OpIsrael,” after the Israeli government threatened to shut off Internet access to Gaza, during a conflict in which Israeli airstrikes killed more than 15 Palestinian civilians. OpIsrael was carried out by the closure of prominent Israeli websites, including those belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bank of Jerusalem.
“For far too long, Anonymous has stood by with the rest of the world and watched in despair the barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people in the so called ‘Occupied Territories’ by the Israel Defense Force,” the group said in a statement. “But when the government of Israel publicly threatened to sever all Internet and other telecommunications into and out of Gaza, they crossed a line in the sand.”
Anonymous went on to release personal information of more than 5,000 Israeli officials online, in addition to the deletion of the websites, along with the statement: “It has come to our attention that the Israeli government has ignored repeated warnings about the abuse of human rights, shutting down the Internet in Israel and mistreating its own citizens and those of its neighboring countries.”
In December 2011, Anonymous was behind the release of emails and credit card details of Stratfor, the government’s public relations company, which were published through WikiLeaks. The released emails included 4,000 which pertained to crackdown on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, its founder. In 2008, Anonymous made headlines when it attacked the Church of Scientology website.
As one Anonymous hacktivist told the BBC, the movement isn’t rooted in idealism and hope. Rather, it’s rooted in an operation of oversight, which it sees as sorely lacking in today’s world, allowing corporations and governments to operate on a shroud of secrecy.
“I’m not under the illusion that we’re going to change the world, but if we can make a big enough noise for people to notice there’s a problem and scream loud enough, someone’s going to take notice. That’s what Anonymous is.”