Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stop calling Anonymous activists!

by Clement Guitton

Anonymous are not activists. Their actions are not political. And yet, as they continue to deface websites and leak documents, the media keeps referring to them as such. As members of the group are being arrested in the US, UK and Ireland, it’s time to revisit the myth.

‘Political participation may be defined as individual or collective action at the national or local level that supports or opposes state structures, authorities, and/or decisions regarding allocation of public goods’ (Barness et. al., 1988)

None of Anonymous actions fit that definition, and are instead very much closer to opportunism.

Yesterday, Anonymous defaced Panda Security for allegedly helping law enforcement agencies to arrest them. According to the BBC, this is activism. But it failed to mention what they considered as political in this action. If it opposes authority, this is clearly in a self-centric manner, not oriented towards the greater good of the community.

A week before that, WikiLeaks published e-mails obtained from the security group Stratfor. The ‘activist’ group Anonymous was credited for obtaining the information. What was the political argument behind it? Was it that governments shouldn’t subcontract intelligence analysis? Or was it that governments shouldn’t engage in intelligence analysis at all? No members of Anonymous backed the action with any political comment. Instead they said in a video: ‘’the security firm failed to encrypt its client information making vulnerable to theft’. So, I can only guess in the end, that they hoped for the public to accredit them with whatever argument political commentators will likely come up with.

Even Anonymous’ argument is paradoxical in their approach. They advocate complete transparency, and that evil governments shouldn’t keep any information from the public eyes (hence Stratfor’s hack). They advocate that information is free (hence Sony’s hack in 2010 and 2012). They advocate basically that privacy and confidentiality shouldn’t exist anymore and that we should all share our data with everyone as much as Anonymous does.

Yet, when other groups, such as The Sun, used the same technics as they do to impinge on confidentiality, they are also unhappy with it. They then seized another occasion to seek for fame and be called ‘hacktivist’ by hacking into The Sun website. Their actions are inconsistent and not clear because, once more, they didn’t explain them and lazily let the public find the ‘political’ argument that will explain their paradoxical and childish opportunistic behaviour.

The anonymity of the groups not only hampers on their political accountability but also blurs any of their messages, as one cannot judge their motives. In other words, they lack transparency as much as their targets allegedly do.

So, in the end, one should be careful about not giving too much credit for such actions. Anonymous seeks to achieve more personal fame and maybe the media shouldn’t give in to that. Recently, released an interview of a hacker that allegedly defaced ’80 Brazilian Government sites’. Hacktivism, again? The hacker was 13 (this should already cast a doubt about his political judgement). When asked about his motives for hacking, he answered: ‘I hack to take part in the latest operations and to get better at hacking’. How can we know that Anonymous has not got exactly the same strong sense of political action to help the larger community?

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