So, there’s this hacker collective known as Anonymous. Clever, right?
I’ve been abstractedly aware of their existence for some time, I guess. I recall a few of their exploits bubbling to the surface of the mainstream media, but I’ve never really investigated much further than that. It honestly wasn’t until LulzRaft and LulzSec started making waves earlier this year that I started paying attention, and I’d like to – very humbly, mind you – make some observations. I’m a little concerned.
I want to preface my comments by lauding the overall enterprises of the Anonymous Core. While the majority of the attention they’ve been getting from the media has been overtly focused on their (somewhat) negative activities, I think some praise and attention needs to be brought to their more positive works: attempting to bring freedom of information to those that are denied it, fighting unnecessary censorship, attempting to sift through mountains of data to expose corruption, largesse and administrative abuses by financial institutions and more. From finding cat abusers right up to hacking government websites, the overall impact of their work seems to be incentivised by positive motivations.
I want to be honest in my ignorance – I don’t completely understand what they are. I’m not sure I understand the differences between AnonOps and PLF or LulzSec and LulzRaft, or how individually named hackers versus anonymous groups play together. It seems that there’s sometimes a cohesive voice for them, and other times hard to pin whether or not they’re responsible for anything at all.
Why I say humbly, is because to speak negatively about them seems to evoke a penchant for petty retribution – a character trait of the overall collective that seems misinformed against the loosely defined goals that Anonymous is supposed to be working towards. Some of these are probably simply oversights of the people involved in those actions, and some of them might simply be acts of blatant ignorance with no way for them to know the dangers of what they’re doing. I have no real condemnation of the idea of ‘Hacktivism‘ – I just think, like most protesters, they’re not really sure how to use their power of the collective in a way that will affect positive change, which is where I’m I trying to zero into here.
It’s not enough to simply vandalize. Bottom line, basics of what most of what they’re doing – DDoS, hacking websites, posting fallacious stories – all funny, but essentially pointless vandalism. All that does is sour public opinion, and does little to fix any of the real issues beyond perhaps someone patching a security hole they found. I don’t think this is productive. It’s destructive criticism, at it’s best. It’s a model that a lot of activists fall into. And that’s where the problem lies – people gather to hack and hew at the actions of their elected leaders, their captains of industry, their friends and family and do little to actually improve the situation. If they really want to change it, there has to be an effort to make the criticism constructive. But it’s hard to postulate whether or not they really do. The overarching appearance of the Anonymous collectives and branches is one suffering from ADD, cruel psychosis with a penchant for justifying their mayhem by mostly directing it at organizations that are more and more despicable. Or randomly leaving them alone.
Here’s the thing: It’s not enough to just say “That Sucks!” Or, post a picture of a troll with “WE DID IT FOR THE LULZ”. Which in my mind, is the same thing. Saying that you hate the way something is, isn’t enough of a motivation to change the thing in question. Again – if change is what Anonymous wants. It’s hard to say.
Because they can be scary too. They’ve crossed some pretty hard lines. Lines that are dangerous, and not just abstractly dangerous like taking down a website, or reporting that the president is dead. I mean actually dangerous. Exposing people through passwords, releasing credit card information, opening people up to identity theft? That’s a bullshit move. And it’s criminal. Innocent people who may barely know more than how to get into their email are now exposed to the unscrupulous because they wanted a few ‘lulz’? That’s not cool.
We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
I would hope at some point that as a collective there is a decision to create some boundaries, or some sort of criteria for the actions they take. They’re getting to a point where they may have to, as the allure of their notoriety may start attracting an even less desirable and less ethical sort than the average hacker. To pretend that they don’t need to take responsibility for their actions – collectively or individually – is churlish. They’ve reached a point where you have grown, and can no longer be as willy-nilly as they’ve been. To put the onus on the average netizen to investigate their purposes and properly interpret their actions is ludicrously näive.
Although I don’t totally ‘get’ the entity that is Anonymous, I do think that I’ve got a fairly good grasp on mass communication and marketing spin. It might seem incongruent with the conception of the meme of Anonymous, but there may be value in evolving the concept to add some basics to their structure to help secure a more positive public image. Calling themselves a ‘friend of the people’ is one thing. To act as such is another. Friends don’t go punching each other in the gut in order to illuminate truth – and the average netizen isn’t going to respond well when you freeze their ability to purchase a tattoo for their baby. As strange as Anonymous is, it barely scratches the surface of what the general population is capable of.
So here’s the humble suggestion: Create some guidelines for the membership activities. Things like “Attack entities, not individuals”. The wording for positing positive alternatives to the negatives they’re attempting to disrupt and destroy might be “Replace bad beliefs with good ideas.” I think if they have a working criteria checklist, we might see more pointed hacktivist attacks, with better outcomes and bigger changes. And if they started taking their failures and success and tracking the data, they might even become far more effective as an activist entity. Right now they are a heavy blunt instrument. They could be as precise and accurate as a surgical scalpel with a little bit of focus.
Frankly, I’d love to see them take something within their domain. Why these guys haven’t decided to stop spam, I don’t know. Because I truly believe they could. Entirely. I’m betting that with a fraction of the effort they’ve put into Project Chanology, they could probably drop spam activity to nearly 0.
That would generate some good vibrations amongst the average people. Imagine a world where you didn’t open your inbox to ads for mail-order brides or viagra alternatives?
“Thanks Anonymous!” is what the people would say.