How Hacktivism is Defining a Generation

The internet age has eliminated boundaries and created an international network of online users with an increasing amount of power

By: Fatima Syed, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Abad Mahava

Photo courtesy of Abad Mahava

As the medium through which protests take shape has drastically changed with the emergence of the Internet, anonymity has become the world’s identity in recent years. The movement toward internet based protests is known as “hacktivism” and entails online community-based political action that includes performance based satire. Recent events have illustrated that such mass online movements have the power to demolish regional and national boundaries and create an international network of online users that can launch an attack from anywhere in the world as one body.

The origins of this movement can be traced to the mid-1990s. First came the notion that the internet could be used to control and counter-control information and solicit support for certain ideological positions. This was seen in the Kosovo crisis of 1991, when hackers used the internet to voice their objections to both Yugoslavia and NATO aggressions by disrupting service on government computers and taking over websites. This was the first instance of the internet being converted to a parallel war zone, where battles were fought on an emotional and psychological level. This would later be exemplified by various hactivist responses to Israel’s most recent occupation of Palestine.

The impact of these online protests, combined with the growing presence of groups such as “Anonymous” and the popularity of Julian Assange and Wikilieaks, has led hacktivism to become known as “cyber-terrorism”, in some cases. The “Anonymous” movement has become an especially significant part of popular culture in the last few years as it has involved catching pedophiles and sending ‘care packages’ to Egypt during the Arab Spring. These packages contained instructions on how to override government-sanctioned censorship using the internet and how to protect oneself against tear gas.

A New Age of Protest

A recently produced documentary highlighting the origins and growth of “Anonymous”, entitled We are Legion, explains how the “Anonymous” movement has become the definitive method for the internet generation to ensure that it remains boundary-less in regard to speech and action.  Beginning as a mere website, 4Chan.org, and a forum called /b/random/ in 2003, the possibilities of a movement like “Anonymous” were realised five years later when it began trolling Scientology. Despite threats of legal action, on February 10, 2008, the group was able to call thousands of individuals dressed in Guy Fawkes masks to protest outside of all major Scientology buildings around the world with a single online message.

Thus began the age of virtual mass protest. No longer was physical presence or physical space required as in the late twentieth century suffrage movements and the Vietnam protests.  Wars, be they political, corporate or religious, gained a third front with the advent of internet.

For example, in 1999, the E-toy hacking campaign saw hactivists send a united rebuttal to Etoys and attempted to remove their website’s domain name because it was too similar to their own. After a series of hacks and public relations stunts, the company was forced to comply with these anonymous, communist-influenced hackers. Despite being a huge corporation, the company had to obey, if only because of the realisation that, due to the attacks, E Toys faced a 70 per cent decline in its NASDAQ stock value.

The actions of a hactivist group called the “Electrohippies” had an equally severe an impact on the World trade Organisation’s (WTO) 2001 meeting in Doha. Unable to physically be present in Doha to protest the globalization and war on terror, the group sent mass emails to the WTO head computer without overwhelming the system.  

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