"Salon: To heck with hactivism" article

From jjf <xdaydreamx@gmx.net>
Date Mon, 24 Jul 2000 18:31:36 +0100

[: hacktivism :]

> To heck with hactivism
> Do politically motivated hackers really think 
> they're promoting global change by defacing Web sites?
> http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/07/20/hacktivism/print.html

Brendan I. Koerner, the author of this article, is affiliated to the Markle Foundation, who cooperate with "CNN, The Children's Television Workshop, Infonautics, Crossover Technologies, M.I.T., The RAND Corporation, Carnegie-Mellon University, and The Brookings Institution." While this does not disqualify him from writing about Hacktivism it does demonstrate the angle he is coming from, if part of his research into "Public Engagement through Interactive Technologies" is funded by these institutions.

While Koerner does make some valid points regarding the seemingly senseless nature of website defacement, he doesn't really dig deeper than to say that "most techno-protestors have yet to prove themselves anything more than pests." Koerner HAS actually been a sane voice amid much of the hacker-bashing that has been going on over the past year. When Mafioboy was arrested he questioned the damage estimates of 1.2 bn US dollars and showed the danger of blindly trusting corporate estimates by recounting the Phrack case where a document supposedly worth 70.000+ US dollars turned out to be worth no more than 12 US dollars (see USNEWS for those articles). This would suggest that behind his practice of a catchy "anti-hacker" headline he is actually sympathetic to hacker's views (even if he won't or can't espouse their aims) and since hacktivism is related to hacking in no uncertain way he is prepared to at least pay some attention to the phenomenon.

His best criticism is of what I would call a lack of discussion among hacktivists. This may be what we are here for, to mull over the pros and cons, the legitimacy and the effectiveness of hacktivism, but a lot of people stand apart, most of all those he is criticising, the "script-kids". So I think there is some truth in what he says: that they will grab a random cause, do a little "hack" and then drop it because there is little conviction in what they are doing. Activism as a fad, so to speak.

But let me put forward a slightly different view of web page defacement: On the one hand I have to agree that there is probably little straightforward gain to be had from "defacing" a web page. But some hackers think more deeply and apply the graffitti artist's logic/credo to their work. Nowhere have I found a better justification for political art/defacement/sticking up two fingers to the establishment (whatever you call it) than in this article: http://www.squall.co.uk/banksy.html (and to see his brilliant art, go to http://www.banksy.co.uk). By the logic of this article we should be taking certain types of cyber-"vandalism" seriously, as protest cries from a discontent generation. As Mark ~ Roth says, just because they are not articulate enough to write those tracts against Nike, which Koerner claims they should be writing, this doesn't mean that they haven't begun to grasp the basics of what activism in an online world is all about. I bet you, in a few years time there will be PhD theses written about these guys and their effect on spreading 'The Word'.

Koerner claims that "right now, with the underground so fractured, and the hacktivist agenda so hazily defined, it's hard to imagine these techno-activists having any appreciable impact on global politics." This is wrong because it makes the false assumption that global politics is affected from the top down or through a selected number of accredited channels (institutions/parties/media outlets/NGOs). In fact, as we have seen over the past few years, all of these would be nowhere without grassroots activism which starts in schools, neighbourhoods and, yes, IRC chats. Kids who have never heard of Nike's sweatshop policy before are quite likely to take an interest once their hacker friend or school paper starts writing something about it, hell, even if they see a crappy slogan on a toilet wall.

I don't mean to glorify website defacement. It's crude and often it's counterproductive because of the image it projects of hacking and hacktivism being criminal activities. However, by creating more of a dialogue the hacktivist community can absorb these kids' talent and teach them more effective ways of expressing their discontent, both in word and deed. They are not a dissident sect, the black mages of cyberspace. They are young and creative but dangerously unclear about what they are doing and why.


P.S.: To come back to "Jam Echelon Day II": Just out of interest I thought I'd try and gauge the spreading of "The Word" by using the most obvious tool at hand, a search engine's results when typing in a phrase. The number of results from Google has gone up slightly from 91695 to 91700 for "echelon" and from 550 to 558 for "echelon+signal+interception" over the past few days. Not knowing much about search engines I'm not sure if Google is the best one to use for this, whether this checking process can be automated, and whether we should try some other search terms too. It should be interesting to see what happens over the next few months until JED II.

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