Hacktivism for Cyber Democracy

Because of the attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder there has been considerable media attention to the hacktivism practiced by supporters of WikiLeaks.  That has been manifested as cyber attacks on mainstream commercial websites that acted against WikiLeaks.  Hacktivism as retribution and strategy to gain political objectives is bound to become much more common.  And considering how voting, especially from the perspective of younger people, has been enormously disappointing as a means of reforming government and political systems worldwide, that seems appropriate.

Naturally, there is a fine discussion of hacktivism at Wikipedia.  There we learn that it has been around far longer than the current attention to the WikiLeaks situation.

Hacking has come to mostly mean illegal breaking into computer systems, while activism has always been either violent or nonviolent.  Hacktivism is clearly now seen as an alternative to convention activism, civil disobedience and, increasingly, participation in democratic, electoral processes.

The combination of computer programming skills, critical thinking, anger and disgust with prevailing corporate and government institutions can, and probably should, drive better focused hacktivism.  It could become an effective strategy for achieving major political reforms.

Cyberterrorism along with cyber crime, Internet fraud and everyday spamming are to be feared and fought, while hacktivism merits considerable respect and public support as a philosophic and political tactic responding to contemporary political and social issues and needs.  At least, as long as it does not do harm to individuals.

Those with the expertise to implement hacktivism are a new breed of radicals, revolutionaries, and power brokers that is unsurprisingly an inevitable consequence of the whole computer, networking and Internet world that has been overly embraced.  As with all technologies, there are always generally unseen and unintended negative impacts that catch people, governments, companies and just about everyone else by surprise.  If there is any real surprise, it is that the world has not seen far more widespread hacktivism.

In a fine 2004 article, “Hacktivism and How It Got Here,” Michelle Delio pointed out: Hacktivism, as defined by the Cult of the Dead Cow, the group of hackers and artists who coined the phrase, was intended to refer to the development and use of technology to foster human rights and the open exchange of information.

We should see hacktivism as a dimension to cyber or digital democracy.  It may first appear as more deadly than violent street protests against government actions that are seen frequently, particularly in Europe, but should it not be seen as just a more technological form of protest appropriate for our time?  Indeed, just as WikiLeaks is seen as a more potent, technological form of whistle blowing, is not hacktivism its logical complement?

There is a wonderful, detailed history of hacktivism on the Wikipedia site, including a citation to a 2006 published paper by the now infamous Julian Assange titled “The Curious Origins of Political Hacktivism.”

Listen to the thinking of a 22-year-old London software engineer known only as Coldblood, who controls the servers the group Anonymous uses to implement its hacktivist actions.  “I decided to speak as I’m passionate about how government shouldn’t censor the internet.  We suggest sites to attack, and if enough people think it’s good, it will generally happen. It’s a community thing.  By making it harder for these companies to operate online we show them a message that it’s not just governments they need to keep happy, it’s the users as well.  If their website is offline, then people can’t use their services and it affects them.  It’s like an idealistic democracy.  But everyone is aware that the attacks are illegal. Nobody is pressured into taking part.  A lot just watch.  But if they arrest one person, the attacks won’t stop.”

To see hacktivism positively today may require having a positive attitude towards WikiLeaks as the defender and protector of the public’s right to know what governments, corporations and international organizations are really doing, even when secrecy is used to thwart transparency.  In so many respects, WikiLeaks is more trustworthy than the groups it exposes.  It is performing a duty that newspapers could once be counted on to do, but with corporate ownership and censorship of media, WikiLeaks offers more independence.  However, the relationship between WikiLeaks and several mainstream newspapers in its release of US State Department documents has been seriously questioned by Michel Chossudovsky: “how can this battle against media disinformation be waged with the participation and collaboration of the corporate architects of media disinformation?  Wikileaks has enlisted the architects of media disinformation to fight media disinformation: An incongruous and self-defeating procedure.”  Still, working with corporate media may have been a tactic to protect WikiLeaks.

This much seems certain about the future: The more that electoral politics in western democracies appears increasingly ineffective in fighting political and corporate corruption, economic inequality, restraints on the Internet, environmental problems, suffering in developing countries, and unnecessary wars, the more we can expect to witness hacktivism.  The most interesting question is whether the American and global plutocracy that has so successfully advanced the greedy interests of the rich and powerful will learn to live with hacktivism or whether it mounts a far more aggressive attack on it, including severe criminal penalties.  Hacktivism is not so much the problem as a symptom of a far more serious, deeper set of problems.

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

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  1. shabnam said on December 16th, 2010 at 9:31am #

    Chomsky and Chomskyte have given their support to WikiLeaks and Assange by signing a petition. Many of these people also are supporter of CPD, campaign for Peace and Democracy, a US government front in my opinion, who has fooled the public by their reactionary slogans to help US war agenda, then against Iraq and now against Iran. CPD has written on their website: CPD Supports Assange and Manning. Look who supports CPD:
    Ervand Abrahamian, Bashir Abu-Manneh, Janet Afary, Michael Albert, Kevin B. Anderson, Stanley Aronowitz, Ed Asner, David Barsamian, Rosalyn Baxandall, Eileen Boris, Sam Bottone, Laura Boylan, MD, Richard J. Brown, MD, Leslie Cagan, Roane Carey, Tim Carpenter, Donna Cartwright, Noam Chomsky, Joshua Cohen, Margaret W. Crane, M. Phyllis Cunningham, Gail Daneker, Manuela Dobos, Ariel Dorfman, Martin Duberman, Lisa Duggan, Steve Early, Carolyn Eisenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Engler, Jodie Evans, Gertrude Ezorsky, Samuel Farber, Thomas M. Fasy, MD, John Feffer, Adam Finger, Barry Finger, David Friedman, Robert (Gabe) Gabrielsky, Barbara Garson, Jack Gerson, Joseph Gerson, Hadi Ghaemi, Jana Glivicka, Suzanne Gordon, John D. Gorman, Arun Gupta, Ernest Haberkern, Mina Hamilton, David Hartsough, Nader Hashemi , Howie Hawkins, Judith Hempfling, Bill Henning, Michael Hirsch, Adam Hochschild, Nancy Holmstrom, Doug Ireland, Marianne Jackson, Mark C. Johnson, PhD, Richard Kim, Naomi Klein, Dan La Botz, Nydia Leaf, Roger Leisner, Jesse Lemisch, Sue Leonard, Nelson Lichtenstein, Amy Littlefield, Martha Livingston, Marvin Mandell, Nasir A. Mansoor, Dave Marsh, Kevin Martin, Michael McCally, MD, PhD, Scott McLemee, David McReynolds, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Erika Munk, Mary Nolan, Mary E. O’Brien, MD, Derrick O’Keefe, David Oakford, Christopher Phelps, Charlotte Phillips, MD, Judith Podore Ward, Danny Postel, Betty Reid Mandell, Leonard Rodberg, Ruth Rosen, Peter Rothberg, Matthew Rothschild, John Sanbonmatsu, Jennifer Scarlott, Jay Schaffner, Bill Scheuer, Jason Schulman, Peter O. Schwartz, Stephen Shalom, Alix Kates Shulman, Alice Slater, Stephen Soldz, Cheryl Stevenson, David Swanson, Jan Tamas, Chris Toensing, Bernard Tuchman, David Vine, Lois Weiner, Steve Weissman, Suzi Weissman, Naomi Weisstein, Chris Wells, Cornel West, Reginald Wilson, Emira Woods, Kent Worcester and Julia Wrigley

    Now look at the names that support WikiLeaks and Assange in a given petition:

    As journalists, activists, artists, scholars and citizens, we condemn the array of threats and attacks on the journalist organization WikiLeaks. After the website’s decision, in collaboration with several international media organizations, to publish hundreds of classified State Department diplomatic cables, many pundits, commentators and prominent U.S. politicians have called for harsh actions to be taken to shut down WikiLeaks’ operations.

    Daniel Ellsberg
    Noam Chomsky
    Glenn Greenwald (Salon)
    Barbara Ehrenreich
    Arundhati Roy (author)
    Medea Benjamin (Code Pink)
    Tom Morello (musician)
    John Nichols (The Nation)
    Craig Brown (CommonDreams)
    Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report)
    DeeDee Halleck (Waves of Change, Deep Dish Network)
    Norman Solomon (author, War Made Easy)
    Tom Hayden
    Fatima Bhutto (author)

    Chomsky and Assange both have no disagreement with the official story of 9/11 given by the US imperialism and Zionism and call those who have reservation, conspirator theorists. How a person can trust Assange who has never shown any activity or disagreement against the establishment wants to ‘inform’ people and ‘leaks’ the ‘secrets’? Only a fool will buy the lies of imperialists/Zionists enablers.
    Chomsky who is against the US imperialism was invited to US Military Academy at West Point in 2006. The media reported:

    On Just War Theory and the Invasion of Iraq
    57:18 – 3 years ago
    From the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Noam Chomsky talks to West Point cadets about just war theory and the invasion of Iraq. During the talk, Professor Chomsky criticizes the work of Michael Walzer, an influential proponent of just war theory and the author of the popular “Just and Unjust Wars.” Following his remarks, Professor Chomsky takes questions from the cadets about international law and the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The talk took place on April 20, 2006

  2. bozh said on December 16th, 2010 at 10:03am #

    yes, to asking, How can NYT, et al be truthful about any leak whatever? while all corporate media behaves and acts as an arm of u.s system of rule!

    so what happened after ellsberg’s leaks? worsening! that’s what happened!
    how about the new leaks [mostly weak leaks]? what is gonna happen after the dust settles dwn?
    i say, worsenings! for ‘aliens’ and many domestics! and why are so many ‘jews’ and zionists defending wikileaks?

  3. hayate said on December 16th, 2010 at 11:15am #

    Disrupting websites is nothing new. It’s been going on since the web became public. The new aspect here is this time it’s being done by more or less those towards the left end of the political spectrum, as opposed to by guv agents and the far right. Previously, it was operatives associated with the israeli and american guvs who did most of the disruption, so naturally, it wasn’t news to the zionist corporate media, the hackers were on their side.

  4. Deadbeat said on December 16th, 2010 at 2:59pm #

    I agree with you hayate but look at whom the left-end of the spectrum is sticking their “necks” out for. Could this be part of the set up to fulfill Joe Lieberman’s dream of curtailing access to the Internet?

  5. Kim Petersen said on December 16th, 2010 at 3:35pm #

    I share your skepticism to CPD and Wikileaks. However, the petition is not about supporting CPD, Wikileaks, or Assange. That is disingenuous. The petition respondents about “condemn[ing] the array of threats and attacks on the journalist organization WikiLeaks.”
    Would you prefer governments to have the power to operate in secrecy and to shut down organizations that threaten that secrecy?

  6. shabnam said on December 16th, 2010 at 3:35pm #

    {Could this be part of the set up to fulfill Joe Lieberman’s dream of curtailing access to the Internet? }

    I agree with you Deadbeat. This like ‘ piracy in Somalia’ which was a cover for Israel and US to bring the Red Sea and Suez Canal under more control of the West, has an intention to limit freedom of speech at the Internet even further.


    Critic of CPD by Phil Wilayto:


    Critic of CPD and its supporters by Gowans:


  7. shabnam said on December 16th, 2010 at 4:12pm #


    Thank you for your comment. I don’t want the governments to operate in secrecy like you do. However, majority of these informations were not ‘secret’ and was expected. However, the kind of information that was ‘leaked’ at specific time is suspicious to me. These ‘leaks’ have been released by a person who not only has no record of activism in his file but also has supported the official lies about 9/11 given by the establishment. He has never shown reservations against lies of the US imperialism earlier until now. He, suddenly, wants to ‘leak’ establishment’s dirty secrets. It is very strange to me indeed.

    He has received ‘Awards’, like many Iranians who work with NED, from the same organizations and foundations to buy him ‘credibility’. The following line:
    {Now look at the names that support WikiLeaks and Assange in a given petition :}
    was misplaced and should have been after “CPD Supports Assange and Manning.” Sorry about that.

    Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg are CPD SUPPORTERS. The following can be found at CPD website:

    {CPD Supports Assange and Manning
    Dear Friend of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy,
    CPD supports the heroic work of Julian Assange and Wikleaks — and, if he was the individual who obtained the Wikileaks cables, Bradley Manning. We hope these revelations will help to mobilize the American public against the terrible U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Pakistan. More broadly, Wikileaks can help to educate Americans about the cynical manipulations of other countries by the United States, and the need for a fundamentally new, democratic and just U.S. foreign policy.}


  8. hayate said on December 16th, 2010 at 8:35pm #

    Deadbeat said on December 16th, 2010 at 2:59pm #

    “I agree with you hayate but look at whom the left-end of the spectrum is sticking their “necks” out for. Could this be part of the set up to fulfill Joe Lieberman’s dream of curtailing access to the Internet?”

    No doubt about lieberman and internet censorship and no doubt there’s a set up in that respect. “Left end of the political spectrum” was a poor choice of phrase on my part, as there is support for wikileaks from right to left – outside of the neocons, of course (but then neocons are against everything except goat buggery. ;D ).

    A lot of the support for wikileaks is not support for the org itself, but support for what wilikeaks represent. The whistle blowing of corruption and behind the scenes duplicity. That’s where I’m at. I think this planet could do with a lot more whistle blowing orgs.

    There is also the possibility that certain people are supporting wikileaks as a way to slip in another zionist co-opter org that will deflect scrutiny of ziofascism, inc. while slyly promoting ziofascism, inc. criminal policy. There is enough known about wikileaks and the people in charge of it (this has been already extensively documented on this site), that I’m rather dubious about their motivations. I’m not comfortable with wikileaks becoming the microsoft of whistle blowing.