Hacktivism: the easy way to change the world

Hacktivism: the easy way to change the world

“Like this status to get Facebook to contribute $1 towards curing doggy paddle in cats!” No doubt you’ve seen a message like this pop up in your news feed, imploring you to affect the fate of humanity by the simple act of clicking “like” below someone’s post.

The reality is, clicking the “like” button on one of these posts will never work. Never. Facebook is not giving out free money to every charity that thinks up this strategy. It’s not. But why do people keep posting things like this? Because activism is old and outdated. Because it’s part of a larger phenomenon.

Hacktivism.

What the heck is hacktivism?

Hacktivism is the new “humanitarian” trend spreading across the internet. In a nutshell, hacktivism relies on the principle that people are fundamentally lazy (Editor’s note: true), and if they can find an easier way to do things, they will. It also relies on the principle that Internet users are, on the whole, reliant on the gray areas of the law for their activities.

Hacktivism is almost exactly what it sounds like; a portmanteau term combining “hacking” and “activism”. But there’s more to it than that. Wikipedia describes it as “‘the nonviolent use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends”. I think that’s a pretty apt description, but it could be simplified: “using the Internet to promote and support a cause”. Let’s take a look at an example.

Anonymous

The famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) hacker “collective” Anonymous are a prime example of hacktivists. Their penchant for bringing down the Internet domains of those people & organisations they disagree with is well-known amongst the Internet community, and thanks to articles like this, also amongst those who favour more traditional media forms.

Anonymous use their prolific hacking skills in combination with their social media tools to conduct surgical strikes on websites, shutting down the sites of corporations and governments in retaliatory actions for events such as the temporary removal of the Wikileaks whistleblower website. More recently, members of the organisation not “sanctioned” by the leadership (or, rather, the designated spokespeople) have created an entire operating system that can be run from a CD or USB key on any Windows computer. The operating system contains commonly-used hacking tools that can be used in collaboration with the “official” members of Anonymous to participate in attacks. Anonymous were also heavily involved in the more traditional physical Occupy protest movement, using the Guy Fawkes mask popularised by the movie V for Vendetta to mark themselves as belonging to the movement.

So what makes Anonymous anything more than vindictive cyber-terrorists?

Well, not much, actually, except for their manifesto. Their manifesto sets them apart from your typical hackers in that it actually speaks to an ideal that the loosely-affiliated group possesses. According to anonanalytics.com, “Anonymous is a decentralized network of individuals focused on promoting access to information, free speech, and transparency.” What makes this hard is the fact that Anonymous is, as the manifesto states, decentralised. Certain sub-organisations such as LulzSec, notable for the international law enforcement arrests of some of its members in 2011, have more organised “command structures”, but still belong to the larger meme of Anonymous. However, Anonymous continues to experience issues with its perception (doesn’t help that their emblem is the creepy faceless man at the top there!), predominantly thanks to its motto: “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.”

But I’m not a hacktivist, am I?

While you might not belong to LulzSec (which announced its breakup in June 2011), you probably qualify as a hacktivist under the definition. Much of hacktivism has come to include the viral creation and propagation of online campaigns such as #KONY2012. If you post a video such as that documentary on your Facebook or Twitter, or message people with a link to an informative humanitarian website, you’ve become a hacktivist. Sure, it doesn’t require any real effort, and in most cases you don’t even need to sign up to more detailed or complicated efforts with charitable organisations or causes. But that’s what hacktivism is — using the Internet to promote and support causes — and this trend continues to grow. So keep posting those videos, sharing those links and liking those statuses, even if they don’t contribute in any palpable financial way. By doing so, you’re showing you care by being what the denizens of the Internet want you to be: a hacktivist.