Welcome to the new world, where technology has the power to change anything, everything, and everyone. I’m not talking about lifestyle. I’m not talking about the economy. I’m talking about real power in the political arena.
Tech power has already changed governments. For example, United States laws that would take away individual freedoms have been stopped by activists that were mostly organized online.
When the Egyptian government cut off their country’s internet amidst a revolution, hacker activists provided support to Egyptians by providing workarounds so they could keep showing the world what was going on in Egypt. Secret government information regarding power abuse was stolen and made public (look up Wikileaks). These are just some examples.
We’re talking about a power that has no leader, no borders, no single agenda or philosophy – a power that is truly hard to define. A power that made impact. A power that made history. The best way to explain this, is to talk about the group called “Anonymous”.
Anonymous: Anarchy or Activism?
Most people have heard about the hacker activist group known only as Anonymous. They have done some naughty things – like take down the Mastercard (credit card) company website. They’ve also stolen and publicized private e-mails of various corporate executives they don’t like.
So why would they do these things? This sounds like digital theft and vandalism. Where’s the activism in this? These are good questions. But the same questions could be asked regarding the rebellious Egyptian riots. Were they overthrowing a corrupt government or were they violently hurting people and causing damage to property? See, context makes a big difference in understanding why a seemingly bad thing was actually part of a bigger picture; perhaps a good picture.
“Are they the good guys then?” you may ask. It’s not that simple. This isn’t a group that runs with a leader at the top where everyone does what he says. These are lots of little groups that share values and do different things different ways. Values shared include freedom of speech and other basic human rights. Most people that count themselves as part of Anonymous will only be involved in legal activities.
But Anonymous has a dark side too.
Some people take the freedom to do bad things when there’s no leader and no accountability. Lulzsec is one such group that associated themselves with Anonymous, but did very bad things purely for entertainment. Their name is slang for “LOLs” and “security”. A variety of government and company systems like the FBI and Sony were targeted. Information was stolen and publicized, websites were taken offline or defaced, and evidence was left to prove that they did it.
They portrayed very little of the activism that previous Anonymous members did. There weren’t any “righteous cause” behind what they did, like protesting against injustice. In the end, arrests were made; but so was history. Governments and companies realized that their systems were full of vulnerabilities. If Anonymous wants to hurt them, they will. Anonymous demonstrated the power to destroy.
What about the good side of Anonymous?
You can’t understand Anonymous without understanding activism. What is activism really? What is its purpose? How does activism work? What’s the difference between proper activism and illegal riots with physical violence and vandalism?
Let’s look at the history-making example of how a new freedom-infringing law was stopped with this type of non-violent activism:
A new United States law was about to be passed that would basically enable authorities to shut off any website or online service that they thought was not appropriate or legal – without any legal procedure to ensure fairness and justice. This means that uncontrolled censorship could be used by for-profit corporations to further their capitalist interests in the name of anti-piracy, since there was no legal justice process involved before shutting off online sites or services. This overkill law was known as SOPA: Stop Online Piracy Act. But when companies started supporting the act, website owners would move their services away from such companies; causing those companies huge losses. People were fighting back. An excerpt from Wikipedia summarizes the power of the people (using technology) well:
“On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia, Google, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, in protest against the bill. Wikipedia said more than 162 million people viewed its banner. Other protests against SOPA and PIPA included petition drives, with Google stating it collected over seven million signatures, boycotts of companies and organizations that support the legislation…” – taken from the SOPA wiki page on 6 July 2015.
In that single day between January 18 and January 19, a guaranteed bill pass had suddenly turned into a guaranteed bill rejection. An overwhelming 80 to 31 votes in favor of SOPA flipped around to being only 65 supportive votes against 101 opposing votes. And it only took a single day! Digital activism changed the outcome of law-making in the U.S.
Should Anonymous be feared, or admired?
Anonymous does a lot more than encourage people to stand up to injustice. As mentioned before, they successfully broke into the most secure and highest profile government and private institutions to cause havoc – for the purpose of fighting injustice in various forms. For example, revealing incriminating private e-mails of top executives, or publicizing evidence regarding abuse of governmental powers.
If abused, such abilities can cause great amounts of harm. If used for good, they could be the last remaining force for justice in a world of corrupt governments, broken legal systems, and powerful greedy corporations.
The corrupt definitely fear them. General people seem very supportive of their vision and efforts. Many are inspired to actively join their cause. Regular people, with some access to a computer, access to social networks, and in the rarer case, some technical skills –is all that is required to exert influence. One need not even be a “hacker”.
This technology-enabled power may be used for good, and it may be used for bad. But make no mistake – the power of it is real. Its power is proven. The story has only begun.
Should you be feared, or admired?
The question Anonymous would ask anyone is simple. What would you do with this power in your hands? Or perhaps the question is what have you done with this power in your hands? Have you done good? Or have you done bad?
Perhaps a bit of both, yes? You might have more in common with Anonymous than you think…