Our first task will be to try to pin down a contemporary definition of hacktivism, seeking, where possible, to distinguish it from political activism in cyberspace, cyberterrorism, and cyber warfare. We will rely on scholarly accounts, cyber manifestos, published chats, and original interviews.*
We will look at groups that have historically sought to pursue their political agenda through what Jordan and Taylor have called ‘mass action hacktivism,’ frequently activities that mimic traditional modes of resistance (the sit-in, defacement, etc.) in the cyber spatial realm. On this subject, the Electrohippies wrote:
“What we’re all about is bringing community accountability to the internet…We have to treat cyberspace as if it were another part of society. Therefore, we must find mechanisms for lobbying and protest in cyberspace to complement those normally used in real life. Without public pressure cyberspace will have no moral or normative controls to control the excesses of politicians, groups or corporations who would seek to dominate that public space.”
We will be particularly attuned to the ethical challenges posed by disembodied agents acting against embodied power structures. Members of the Electrohippies were quick to point out the danger of using a technology that has the capacity to magnify the efforts of a single actor to extents unimaginable in the ‘real’ world. While they may have had the technical expertise to launch bot powered DDoS attacks, they opted for programs that required human participation, so that the scale of the intervention fairly reflected the support of the cause.
We will attempt to disentangle the thread of actions that should be identified with activists who have recognized the internet as a new plane for power relations from the actions of hackers who have become politicized. We would be remiss if we ignored the significance of the artful hack in hacker culture. It is an element often (but not always) missing from efforts that take the form of mass action hacktivism. We could compare these attacks to more digitally correct methods, exploring actions that are more fully oriented around the hack, require greater levels of technological expertise and demand fewer participants.
Through this, we will inevitably run up against the tensions between the hacktivism of theory and that of practice. We will have to interrogate that ostensible aims of culture that aspires to create a space of free access to information, circumvent censorship and undermine monopoly control of technology, and yet engages in practices that infringe on the opposition’s right to free speech (see metac0m, “What is Hactivism 2.0?”).
We will also look at impact. To what extent are hactivist efforts successful? How can such a success be measured?
*There are, obviously, security issues raised by engaging directly with this community. Certainly, it is unlikely that we will attract significant attention or present any material that could be perceived as threatening to the anonymity or aims of any of its members. However, to err on the side of caution, we have approached a network security specialist and will be following his advice to protect ourselves and preserve our own anonymity.
(Marisa and Daniel co-authored this proposal)