Hacked off with hactivism
26 July 2012
The honeymoon may be over for the alliance between protest politics and hacker culture, says Angela Nagle.
In a move that will shock those who see computer hackers as the techno wing of the political left, a Danish group self-identifying as a wing of the anarchic collective "Anonymous" has taken the side of the bosses in a recent conflict between the Danish restaurant Vejlegaarden and the union 3F.
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack was carried out by supporters of AnonDK, causing the site to be taken offline for several days, denying members access unemployment insurance payments. The attacks have since spread to websites of the Social Democratic Party and the national trade union confederation. 3F has been in conflict with the restaurant since they aparrently ended an agreement with the union in favour of the less militant Krifa. The conflict has escalated, with increasing media coverage in Denmark, resulting in a picket outside the restaurant and services to the restaurant such a postal delivery halted as other unions have acted in solidarity. When the union threatened to launch a strike at the printing press of a local newspaper which ran the restaurant’s adverts, Danish hackers AnonDK, got involved. AnonDK posted a video on YouTube declaring war on 3F for attacking the restaurant's freedom of speech and, in a moment quite beyond parody, declared the union's "carbon based class struggle" to be old fashioned and irrelevant. Other groups identifying as and with Anonymous condemned the DDoS attack, which involved the participation of hackers from around the world, and hackers are keen, as always, to highlight that these actions don’t represent Anonymous as a whole. Several Anonymous manifestos have stated that Anonymous is not an organisation of hackers but a “living consciousness” comprised of individuals acting anonymously online with at times coinciding ideas and goals, stressing that it has no formal affiliations. It is decentralised and often compares itself to a swarm. It is easy to see then why it held such appeal for the protest movements of the last few years from the Spanish ‘indignados’ to The "Occupy" movement. The hacker collective, whose Guy Fawkes mask has become a regular feature on any and every demonstration and a symbol of the new digital protest sensibility, has received an enormous amount of cultural validation from figures on the left. Heather Brooke and the BBC's Paul Mason have cast them as the vanguard of contemporary protest movements while self-styled radical journalist Laurie Penny described "the culture of lulz" in falttering terms and DDoS hacking as a kind of "digital sit in". What should be surprising about all of this is not that Anonymous have been seen to take the bosses’ side in a labour dispute but that anyone is surprised by what they have done. Anonymous have long been associated with some of the nastiest, most iditotic behaviour online for years, but those who romanticise the group have shown little sympathy for its less political victims.
For example, Anonymous hacked an epilepsy website and placed on the site images that would bring on an epileptic fit. They have attacked individuals with whom they disagree including exposing the embarrassing private emails of people employed to investgate cybercrime. They would later progress to DDoS attacking feminist websites. Anyone familiar with the squalid online culture Anonymous arose from should have been horrified by their adoption as pet radicals in recent years, but instead they were credulously welcomed as the new mascot of everything from anti-cuts movements to student and secularism protests.
Why would a collective which is by definition anti-organisation be assumed to have any affinity with organised labour? Indeed why would a group proudly lacking any coherent programme or moral core be expected to behave in a principled way on this or any issue? Like some recent protest movements, its stance of having no official politics and no official demands or structures provides the perfect get out clause for any action. It wasn’t really Anonymous, their apologists argue, because there is no real Anonymous. But if that is true and they don’t have to take any responsibility for any ‘bad’ hacking, then they should also be stripped of praise for any ‘good’ hacking.
The few critical voices that have emerged with a sophisticated critique of DDoS hacking have come from tech writers, not from issue-hopping celebrity radicals. In a very counter-intuitive debate, Cory Doctorow of net culture web zine Boing Boing called DDoS hacking – designed to shut down websites – as anundemocratic, censor-happy assault on of free speech, while cyber-sceptic Evgeney Morozov gave thoughtful consideration to their validity as a form of protest.
If radicals didn’t show any principles when Anonymous were attacking, shutting down and intimidating those they disagree with, or targets too apolitical to hold their interest, then they have little grounds to complain now. But if this is the beginning of the end for the love affair between hacker culture and the left then it’s certainly better late than never.Image by Alice McGregor. CC Licenced.