Responding to “Anonymous in Context: The Politics and Power behind the Mask” by Gabriella Coleman
In this article, Gabriella Coleman discusses the development of the infamous group Anonymous and the associated issues that come with discussing the growing brand of “Hacktivism.” There is a brief mention of another group, the EDT (Electronic Disturbance Theater), and I plan on investigating to what extent this group paved the way for Anonymous and introduced the world to this form of protest, as well as the implications of digital protesting today.
The group EDT was founded in 1997 by Stefan Wray and Ricardo Dominguez, who sought to create their own form of “electronic civil disobedience.” Their first experiment was in opposition to the Mexican government, intended to demonstrate their support for the Zapatista Rebellion, and this quickly moved on to digital protests on a larger scale: other targets included the White House and the Pentagon. There’s no question that Anonymous is significantly more popular and influential than EDT, but was EDT their inspiration? While it’s hard to prove any direct causation between the two, it does seem that cyber attacks became increasingly popular following the EDT; groups like the Black Hand, Radio4All, and other small unaffiliated groups began to pop up in support of various causes around the world. Generally, the goal was to make a statement, but up until the dawn of Anonymous, such attacks were largely viewed as unproductive by the general population. A scathing New York Times article from 1998 discussing hacktivism calls them “largely nuisance attacks” and likens them to “the equivalent of electronic graffiti.” However, at least in many circles, Anonymous has now become a well known name, and their many accomplishments (as well as their political and social consequences) are discussed in Coleman’s article.
Regardless of whether you find this type of activism to be moral or not, it is unquestionably a form of resistance. Resistance is, most basically, any actions by a subordinate group that are intended to deny or mitigate the claims made upon them by a superordinate class; it is a movement to promote their own claims and advance them over those of the superordinates. It can be explicit and organized, or more implicit in nature. The Zapatista Rebellion was itself a form of resistance, wherein the indigenous people of Southern Mexico (allied with some of the intellectual class) called out NAFTA and marginalization by the global economic system, demanding a new structure that better suited their needs. But how is digital resistance difference from the way we traditionally think of resistance?
First, most protests are immediately categorized as either “violent” or “non-violent”; it might seem that cyber resistance is obviously non-violent, because digital attacks are, by definition, non-physical. However, many actions taken by EDT and Anonymous have had real-world impacts on people and movements across the world. As such, we may have to reassess our definition of violent resistance in order to meet the growing tide of digital protests. Secondly (and probably more importantly), the relationship between hacking and internet regulations turns resistance almost into an act of one-upmanship. If governments and nations were able to implement systems to make hacking more difficult, would it actually prevent attacks? With ever-increasing computer literacy and the constant development of new technologies, it seems that such systems would quickly spread to be utilized and adapted by the governments of many other countries, creating a sort of paradox. If we want to make it harder for others to hack our information, it will likely become harder for us to hack their information as well, and so all parties will continue to develop new techniques and skills while simultaneously building up digital walls. In this way, the continuation of hacking starts to feel like an electronic form of nuclear proliferation. But what would be the alternative? As the power and capabilities of many governments grow in the postmodern age, so too do new forms of resistance evolve to subvert those structures. Whether or not we expressly support such forms of digital protest, the act of resisting is something that we all do every day; our actions, our speech, even our clothing all contribute to an identity based on resistance, and that is not likely to change anytime soon.
The New York Times, “‘Hacktivists’ of All Persuasions Take Their Struggle to the Web” by Amy Harmon. <http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/31/world/hacktivists-of-all-persuasions-take-their-struggle-to-the-web.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>
Huffington Post, “More About the Electronic Disturbance Theater” by Peter Ludlow. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/urizenus-sklar/more-about-the-electronic_b_770735.html>
Hackmageddon, “Cyber Attacks Statistics for 2016.” <http://www.hackmageddon.com/2016/02/16/january-2016-cyber-attacks-statistics/>