The Digital Age has given rise to a unique new type of activism, called hacktivism. One of this week’s articles defines hacktivism as “is the use of computer technology to achieve a political agenda through legally ambiguous means.”
A simple vector image of a suit. This is commonly used as the logo of Anonymous, a well-known hactivist group.
The problem is, many people disagree on whether “hackitvism” is a platform for positive social change or yet another danger of the digital age.
Hacktivists seem to be walking a thin line between activism and cyber terrorism. Perhaps the difference lies in whether or not we agree with their political agenda. We seem to have a tendency to view organizations like Anonymous and Wikileaks as champions for freedom of speech and distribution of knowledge, but if other hacktivists use the same techniques to push an unpopular agenda, would they become cyber terrorists in the eyes of the public?
As a hypothetical example, take the technique of Website Defacement, or “…attacks which change the content of websites, usually for the purpose of spreading a political message.” This technique could be used to spread racism, homophobia and any other seemingly hateful believe, but would this still be considered hacktivism because it is pushing a political agenda- albeit a harmful one? Would it be cyberterrorism because that agenda is hateful?
We could make the argument that it is still hacktivism because cyberterrorism “…covers politically motivated hacking operations intended to cause grave harm…” and defacing a website with hateful messages isn’t physically harming anyone. But even that argument walks a thin line. Hateful messages can be harmful to the psyche. They can encourage discrimination or even violent action; thus they can cause harm.
But does that mean Web Defacement and other hacktivism techniques are inherently harmful? This week’s articles provide examples of positive hacktivism, including the Israeli teen that took down an Iraqi government site in 1999. Hacktivism can encourage free speech and the exchange of information, and thus it can encourage social change.
A problem arises when we try to declare that this hacktivism is good and should be considered civil disobedience, but that hacktivism is bad and should be considered criminal. That distinction is subjective- an idea can be completely awful by normal standards, but there will still be those who agree with it. And there will be those who don’t agree, but feel that those who share the idea have the right to be heard.
If we are more likely to view this activity as activism if we agree with the agenda they’re advocating for, maybe it comes down to this question: who decides what is cyberterrorism and what is hacktivism?