Hacktivism Reloaded: The hacktivism network in the 2010s

When we look at the Hacker vs. Authority dynamic, we initially see a polarized debate which separates the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’, depending on which media lens you are looking through. It has been this way since the 1980s and 90s, when Hacktivism began to generate publicity and controversy as the cypherpunk sub-genre subverted the conventions of the Internet to form new user ideals.

However, Hacktivism and the Hackers’ dialogue with authority has changed dramatically since the time of the Cult of the Dead Cow and when Steve Wozniak, and Julian Assange, hacked telephone services to highlight imperfections in security, and take advantage of free connections. The conversation between Hackers and authority has changed dramatically, in just the last ten years alone. Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks Party having run for the first time in federal elections in Australia in 2013 demonstrates this progression; not only has the era of secrecy been lifted from some segments of the hacking community, but some hackers, like Assange and co-producer on WikiLeaks’ Collatoral Murder video Birgitta Jonsdottir, are actively running against the grain and becoming public figures in order to spearhead the search for truth and champion the ‘share alike’ core of the Hacker Ethic. In another sense, Anonymous has become a public figure, engaging in serious tussles with several sources of authority, whether political (hacking North Korean and South Korean websites and making Denial-of-Service Attacks), economic (taking down or defacing PayPal site amongst others) or religious (Project Chanology), to challenge the core structures of society in a very public and forceful way. In the case of PayPal, the WikiLeaks website highlights the alleged hypocrisy with which PayPal is conducting business currently; not only, maintains WikiLeaks, will they allow Holocaust denial websites to receive donations, but they also allow the KKK and pornography sites to receive money using their service as well… but not WikiLeaks.
Source: Pierre-Selim (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protest_ACTA_2012-02-11_-_Toulouse_-_03_-_Anonymous_girl_with_a_poney_tail.jpg)
Source: Pierre-Selim

In the same way, authority figures and private enterprise are beginning to be seriously questioned by the hacker collective, and subsequently wide swathes of the Internet community, for the agendas which are displayed and perpetuated when controversies and moral questions are stimulated via the actions of identities like WikiLeaks and Anonymous. In the case of PayPal and Amazon shutting down their service to WikiLeaks following the release of certain classified U.S. government documents, this denial of service provokes serious problems with society’s dependance on private companies, who are at liberty to act upon hidden agendas at their will. Social media may be seen as a liberator and a tool for activists, but the downside to platforms like Facebook and Twitter is that we forget that they do not belong to the public and therefore their owners can inhibit the activity of anyone they do not agree with, without having to provide a well evidenced reason. This kind of behaviour may become more and more prevalent, particularly on Facebook, as legislation to prevent advocacy for boycotting is set forward by the current Coalition government, and the platforms used to spread ideas about such activist actions start to react in a way which may fall in line with the ideology of the government in power in both Australia and the U.S.

The function of Hackers has, therefore, become not only about championing truth, but has also become more strongly centred around democratisation of access online, and revealing the inequalities and agendas which may go unheard and undiscovered otherwise.

6 thoughts on “Hacktivism Reloaded: The hacktivism network in the 2010s

  1. nicolelambert says:

    Hacktivism is such a scary notion to me – what if I am next? What are they going to discover about me? I feel everyone deserves some sort of private life. In reference to your post, personally it did confuse me how Jullian Assange was running for the elections in 2013? At first I thought to myself “isn’t he a criminal?” why would he be running. It was just a baffling thought to me. It’s weird to think that hacktivism has become a political issue and that they wanted to come into office to push forward these notions and change democracy.


  2. chjvu says:

    Very encouraging post supporting the hackers’ perspectives. And, I totally agree with you and am in full support of whistleblowers’ work. However, From another point of view, what if the leaked information endangers national security? I have interviewed a few Chinese students, who are well aware about the blockage of Facebook and the censorship of the Internet in their home country. However, they actually find themselves comfortable with them and think that those are necessary for peace, order and integrity to maintain in mainland China. They argued that, the ways China has stuck together to survive and remain a powerful nation are based on integrity. China has a distinct culture of togetherness and collective power. This integrity would however be compromised by civil obedience. This means what China is now doing through censorship is what is considered best for the country, as sacrificing the freedom of knowledge of an individual for the overall peace and safety of the society. Interesting view huh?


  3. Laura says:

    This is the first time I’ve come across your blog. It was very interesting to read, great job!
    It is interesting to note the changes in the reasons for hacktivisim. It seems that the drive for freedom of speech and uncovering hidden agendas has overtaken (or is certainly more widely spoken about) than the use of hacking for commercial purposes. It seems somewhat ironic, we are currently experiencing the age of social media, where there is more information available than ever before. It should be encouraging the mass democratisation of all aspects of society as it is easier to communicate and voice opinions over this medium however, as you suggest, some governments are going out of their way to restrict freedom of speech (through new proposals to restrict secondary boycotting or government censorship – as in China). I definitely believe there is a necessity for white hat hackers (those acting for public interest) to uncover information that should be publicly available, as WikiLeaks has predominantly done. Similarly, those hackers acting to highlight company’s security system inefficiencies also seem to act in social interest. We need people, or groups, that can ensure the public knows the true actions of their government’s and large corporations, to keep them accountable. This was once the role of investigative journalism, but with the consolidation of media ownership, the ability to find such information and then publish it without risking one’s job is tricky. It seems that the public needs hackers, to release hidden information that can help the public make informed decisions, even if the key goals of hacktivism are to encourage freedom of speech and democratisation of the online medium.


    1. Gemma Amy Lee says:

      Thanks for the comment Laura! I agree with you about the place of white hat hackers, hacking not for hacking’s sake or for personal means, but judging what they do based upon public sentiment (although I’m almost certain some in government, particularly in America, and large public corporations, would see these people as black hat…). The evolution of the net certainly has kicked up some interesting ideas concerning how far the power of governments can extend and how accurate the actions of hackers are when reflecting what society thinks and wants. It’s also pretty exciting to be living in a time when we can watch this moral dilemma happen in front of us (although not so fun when one’s credit card details are exposed… e.g. Adobe hack this month).


  4. kurtphilpot says:

    Iv been very interested reading our DIGC202 blogs this week and finding that some of our students believe internet hacking isn’t such a bad thing. Iv read people saying that we should have free access to the things we want, internet exploration should be the same as exploring the land. I just don’t understand these views – that’s almost like saying we should be allowed to openly roam around each others houses when no one is home. I don’t know a lot about internet hacking or how its done but it scares me that websites like these http://hack-boy.com/ exist !!


  5. paulieecic92 says:

    Hacktivism to me stands as a ‘freedom culture’ amongst people of the world, who recognize the ability to bring heightened awareness to the unassuming individual citizen. Whilst there are issues with the collateral dangers that come about through Hactivist behaviour, I think groups such as Anonymous have recognised that their skills in hacking, obtaining and spreading secrets that are not shared amongst the entire global population, and thus have adopted an almost responsibility type approach. I feel people that fear groups such as these should not so much fear them and they’re power, but in fact fear the potential of secrets and information that they may uncover.


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