In an unnecessary film sequel, the infamous Anchor Man Ron Burgundy finally started making some sense towards the end when he said: “You see, folks, I’ve read a lot of news in my day, but it’s…it’s taken me until now to realise what real news is. Real news is supposed to let people know what the powerful are up to, so that that power doesn’t become corrupt. But what happens when the powerful own the news?”
In 2006, Julian Assange’s first act of hacktivism for his site Wikileaks was with the release of their video ‘Collateral Murder’, with the intention of exposing the unjust realities of modern warfare (Khatchadourian, 2010).
The term ‘hacktivism’ refers to using computers and networks to ‘debate and sustain a political issue, promote free speech, and support human rights’ (Paganini, n.d.).
The origins of hacking lay within the realm of military action. During the Second World War, hackers were breaking into other countries’ computer systems to gain access to secret information codes (Mitew, 2014). Although in more recent times, with ever-advancing technologies, we have seen a huge rise in the hacking phenomenon but not necessarily to gain information to report back to one’s own country, but instead as medium for activism. There has been a shift; with a large focus now not on gaining information about ‘the other’, but instead hackers are breaking into and exposing computer systems of their own communities and countries, too. Hackers, like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, are leaking information to media outlets and onto the Internet to expose the unjust and exploitative nature of those in power to the public, making them hacktivists.
Assange summed this shift up perfectly in an article with Raffi Khatchadourian in 2010 for The New Yorker, when he defined the human struggle “not as left verus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution.”
Similarly in another instance of an individual versus institution, we have whistleblower Edward Snowden’s case; a systems administrator and computer professional working for the NSA who leaked details of classified US government surveillance programs (Mitew, 2014).
Hacktivists like Assange and whistleblowers like Snowden share the mission to expose injustice served by those in power, with the belief that everyone should have access to everything in order to build an independent online public sphere (Mitew, 2014).
Some may call this technological determinism at its finest, and others may not see the use in hacktivism at all. But when Assange stated Wikileaks’ primary targets were the oppressive regimes in China and Russia (Khatchadourian, 2010), it’s certainly not hard to see reason with Wikileaks.
Unfortuantely, not all hackers become hacktivists, and a lot of information that is stolen is not useful nor ethical. Hacking has been used for far less ambitious things, such as 4chan’s releasing of over 200,000 snapchats and the nude celebrity leaks (Grey, 2014), perpetuating the stigma associated with hackers.
On that note- do you feel that all information should be free and flowing with accessibility to everyone? Do you believe that Assange and Snowden were right in their hacktivism?