// Posted by Tommy on 01/28/2012 (6:23 PM)
Hacking, according to Steven Levy and his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, can be traced back to MIT in the 1940′s, a decade before computer programming was even offered at the school. Back then, hacking referred to… Read more
Hacking, according to Steven Levy and his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, can be traced back to MIT in the 1940′s, a decade before computer programming was even offered at the school. Back then, hacking referred to a particular work ethic: a “hack” was “a project undertaken or a product built not solely to fulfill some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement.” Eventually, with the rise of computers, the hacking style of work could be applied to computer programming as well. Within the research community, hackers focused on the computer systems themselves, and worked at trying to see what they could do with them. In the beginning, hackers focused on the computer hardware and soon computer games, and their stigma was that of “semi-indpendent, creative individuals.” From this cultural movement of hackers came the hacker ethic:
- “Access to computers- and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works- should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!..
- All Information should be free….
- Mistrust Authority- Promote Decentralization…
- Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position…
- You can create art and beauty on a computer…
- Computers can change your life for the better.”
In this early hacker community, hackers made the programs they were working on available to one another, with the expectation that the program would then be added on to, improved, and made available again, because “the Right Thing to do was make sure that any good program got the fullest exposure possible because information was free and the world would only be improved by its accelerated flow.” Decades later, this same ethic would reemerge with the group and movement known as Anonymous.
Anonymous is a group that is particularly hard to define. While most people agree that they are hackers, the term hacker has been somewhat misconstrued over the years. At its core, according to a three-part series on Anonymous on wired.com by Quinn Norton, Anonymous is a culture. Says Norton, “It takes cultures to have albums, idioms, and iconography, and I was swimming in these and more. Anonymous is a nascent and small culture, but one with its own aesthetics and values, art and literature, social norms and ways of production, and even its own dialectic language. It is no wonder we in the media and the wider culture are often confused. Any study of Anonymous must be anthropological, taking into account the way people exist in different societies. The media has just been looking for an organization with a leader who could explain why Anonymous seems to do weird things.”
In tracing the history of Anonymous, Norton acknowledges the rise of computer culture in general throughout the 1960′s and 1970′s countercultural movement featured in Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture. In fact, in my opinion, Anonymous is perhaps the best, if not the most current, example of the blend between counterculture and cyberculture. However, while Turner illustrates the movement from offline counterculture to online cyberculture, Anonymous represents the logical next step: the use of widespread cyberculture and its ubiquitous presence in society today to spread its counterculture message. Norton says this in so many words in part 1 of the series by pointing out that “you’re never quite sure if Anonymous is the hero or antihero. The trickster is attracted to change and the need for change, and that’s where Anonymous goes… The trickster as myth proved so compelling that the network made it real. Anonymous, the net’s trickster, emerged like a supernatural movie monster out of the misty realm of ideas and into the real world…For the first time, the internet had shown up on the real street, en masse.”
Anonymous has most definitely evolved over the past couple years, but their goal and message has remained largely unchanged. “In the beginning, there were lulz, pranks and a culture of trolling just to get a rise out of anyone. But despite many original Anons best efforts, Anonymous has grown up to become the net’s immune system, striking back whenever the hive mind perceived that the institutions that run the world crossed the line into hypocrisy… It’s the culmination of a trend. Anonymous has gone from rickrolling the internet and mass-producing lolcats to hacking governments and corporations as a way to take on the systems that run the world, through means legal and illegal.”
Anonymous is perhaps most known for their attacks against Sony and AiPlex, the India-based company contracted to send out take-down requests to piracy sites, notably The Pirate Bay. Eventually the story morphed into legend; word spread that AiPlex was hired to perform illegal actions by the MPAA and RIAA. While this may or may not have been the case, it wasn’t specifically the actions that angered Anonymous, but rather the motives behind those actions. “For years those who cared about the effects of copyright laws on online freedom seemed to suffer one institutional defeat after another, with bill after bill pushed by the entertainment industry carving away rights, lawsuits shuttering innovative music start-ups and secret treaties proposing increased monitoring and control of people’s computers and internet connections. Most of these bills failed, but for the digitally political, Big Content’s pushes felt like a continual assault. Anonymous had no unified opinion on copyright per se, but when measures to stop piracy threatened to hamper the internet, the hive mind came together.” The chief complaint of Anonymous was the restriction of people’s access to the internet, because ” To threaten to cut people off from the global consciousness as you have is criminal and abhorrent. To move to censor content on the internet based on your own prejudice is at best laughably impossible, at worst, morally reprehensible.” In their own words, Anonymous “does not forgive internet censorship” and “does not forget free speech.” This video, with the computer generated voice so deeply a part of Anonymous’s aesthetic, sums up their point pretty well, and in their own words, about the state of the internet in December of 2010:
The actions by Anonymous most closely tied to the history of the hacker, however, was their attacks against Sony. Thanks to Anonymous, the Sony Playstation Network was down from April 20th-May 14th, and Sony’s stock dropped from $31/share to just over $25/share. “The Sony PS3 console had been a favorite of hackers, who used a jailbreak created by George Hotz (geohot) in 2010 to install custom firmware and run Linux and OtherOS. Running Linux was originally a feature used by Sony to promote the PlayStation, but later removed the feature with a patch. In January 2011, Sony sued Hotz and others for allegedly violating federal law against circumventing encryption. Hotz settled in April under a gag rule, but it didn’t stop him from blasting Sony on his personal blog and asking people to join him in a boycott of Sony products.” In the end, it comes back to the hacker ethic, of which Sony broke multiple rules (although especially 1 and 2).
Although I’m sure I don’t fully understand Anonymous and the true reasons behind their actions, I can’t help but side with them on multiple issues. While some of their techniques may be illegal and morally questionable, the results are often for the general good of society (namely the events that took place in Tunisian and Egypt; read the three-part series for a refresher). Of course, how the facts are interpreted varies from individual to individual. I consider Anonymous the heroes because they stand up and fight for free speech and the freedom of information on the internet. Are their techniques sometimes illegal? Absolutely. But so is speeding (which I do almost every morning when I need to get to campus because I’m late for class) and downloading music online (which I do because I feel as though an artist will ultimately benefit more from me downloading a song of theirs that I love and promoting it to all of my friends and convincing them to go see that artist in concert with me than from the small percentage of proceeds an artist gets from the record label). In other words, I can relate to Anonymous because I agree with their ideologies. I feel as though this culture is one that promotes and encourages values that I do as well. But I could be biased. So let me know what you guys think. Is anonymous just a group of internet terrorists? Or is Anonymous the Rosa Parks of the internet civil rights movement? Or is it really not as black and white as that?