Betty Wang and Lara Wesnofske

Hackers are one elusive group. There is a wide held belief that hackers are destructive and dangerous individuals that act without borders and without a sense of ethics. But this understanding of hackers is shortsighted. As Gabriella Coleman says in her talk “Free Speech: Anonymous vs. Scientology,” there exists a certain genealogy in the world of hackers. The general “species” is not exclusive of anomalies. There are various forms of hackers that act with different interests and goals, some of which are not nihilistic in nature or execution.  In our travelogue, we want to explore what we believe to be two genealogies of hackers in the form of the Wikileaks organization and the “Anonymous” group. In our definition of hacktivism (as a form of social activism that is mediated by technologies on a digital interface,) there needs to be a cohesive structure to the organization with a clearly stated common goal. As Marco states in his essay, a network is held together by a leader or by “common narratives or stories that people tell.” While both Wikileaks and the “Anonymous” group can be understood as hacktivist groups, in that they use methods of computer hacking to call for social and political activist action, they differ in their structure. Where Wikileaks has a distinguishable leader figure (Julian Assange), “Anonymous” is a decentralized community of hackers. And whereas Wikileaks is produced with the common goal of information transparency within political and economic structures, Anonymous seems to act without a single, uniform purpose. We will look further into these differing structures and their influences on the effectiveness of their activist goals.  We will also attempt to determine whether or not the existence of a public figure head plays into the public perception of the legitimacy of the respective actions. We will consistently revert back to one of our main discussions on the relationship between activist efforts that are virtual versus those that are carried out in real life.

Logo for Anonymous

We are going to draw from secondary resources as provided by the class syllabus, focusing on the sections regarding Wikileaks and Hacktivism.  These readings will provide a qualitative foundation for our primary research which will most likely be a survey distributed to our friends and public forums that will question the public perception of the hacktivist groups.  Our questions will deal with two main issues; the first questions whether or not the general public believes that hacktivism is a form of cyberterrorism (does the public believe hactivist efforts are a legitimate for of activism, or do people agree that these actions are destructive and harmful). The second aska whether or not people believe that activist activities able to be carried out on an abstract digital interface.

5 Responses to “Hacks For Lulz”

  1. jenny1rving says:

    I like where your going with this figurehead approach. I don’t necessarily think that having some sort of persona attached to a group creates legitimacy, but I do think that it can create a following. One of the main reasons I started liking WikiLeaks/Julian Assange was the quote comparing him to Facebook/Marc Zuckerburg. Having a figurehead creates some sort of icon that we want to relate to or emulate…or even just learn more about.

  2. chelseachristensen says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your topic. I honestly did not know hardly anything about the group Anonymous, and your links made it very convenient for me to read more about your topic to fully understand your proposal. I would especially like to hear more about how you are planning to approach your first question of whether or not the general public believes that hacktivism is a form of cyberterrorism, because this question seems very complex and difficult for people to choose concretely one side or the other. Will a survey be sufficient to really delve into the deep questions and moral opinions that people have on this topic, and will your audience even be enlightened enough to take a stance? Just knowing from my personal lack of knowledge on the subject, I had to do some background research via your links to even form a semi-defined position. I am not sure how the best way to approach this problem is-perhaps targeting a specific group of people that you know would be more involved in this question, or perhaps performing more short interviews rather than a general survey. Just some ideas to throw around, but overall, great work on the proposal, it seems like you really know what you want to get out of your travelogue topic and have a good start on approaching your research.

  3. mdeseriis says:

    Betty, I like your proposal. Before distributing your survey make sure to distinguish the different connotations of “the terms “hacker” and “hacktivism.” Both terms are understood in different ways by different people so if your research is going to involve a survey on the public perception of these terms keep in mind that the media use the term hacker frequently in conjunction to piracy and the breach of cyber-security. On the other hand, people such as Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and others have tied the term hacker to the community of FOSS programmers. While the term hacktivism is more clear, its application is not when it comes down to what kind of tactics and techniques are the hacktivists relying on. This blog post has a very interesting discussion on this matter:

  4. Matt Gorman says:

    I agree with Marco on this one–I think it’s definitely an interesting topic and I think it would be very interesting to explore how the public views “hackers” versus how they look at “hacktivism,” because I think the differences in image are pretty drastic. Aside from that, it looks like the readings provided you with a pretty good starting point to perform some original research, so I think if you just keep following the track you’re on, you’ll have a solid travelogue.

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