Is "Hacktivism" Really Activism?

Jun 28, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Every Tuesday, we work with the deep-thinkers over at SoulPancake to choose a TakePart story and discuss the Life’s Big Question it brings to mind. This week we look at the emergence of "hacktivism." Look for this week's Big Question at the end of the story, then join the conversation!

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Bainbridge)

On Tuesday, Mastercard's main website was shut down temporarily after suffering an apparent attack by pro-WikiLeaks hackers upset with the financial company's refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks last year.

Said MasterCard spokesperson James Issokson to

"We can confirm that MasterCard's corporate, public-facing website experienced intermittent service disruption, due to a telecommunications/Internet Service Provider outage that impacted multiple users."

While the company refused to go into specifics about the source of the service interruption, Internet vigilantes quickly credited hacker group "Anonymous" with delivering the day's dose of cyber justice.

“ DOWN!!!, thats what you get when you mess with @wikileaks @Anon_Central and the enter community of lulz loving individuals :D” tweeted @ibomhacktivist.

The successful designated denial of service (DDoS) attack—described by experts as the Internet equivalent of "15 fat men trying to get through a revolving door at the same time"—was also trumpeted by WikiLeaks.

“Hacktivists take down MasterCard in protest over the continuing illegal WikiLeaks fiscal embargo,” tweeted the whistleblowing organization.

“The unlawful banking blockade against WikiLeaks in 6th month: The culprits: VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, Western Union.”


Of course, hack attacks are nothing new. So the question remains: are they effective?


While they certainly garner their share of publicity, many question whether the underhanded nature of the attacks damages the credibility of the cause behind it—no matter how worthy.

"WikiLeaks is a subject which tends to generate strong emotions—whether you're in favor of what the organisation stands for, or against it," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos security.

"Computer users would be wise, however, to remember that even if you feel WikiLeaks is being persecuted by the authorities or abandoned by online companies, denial-of-service attacks are still illegal."

But as Frank Rieger of the Chaos Computer Club said, hacking is more about empowering young computer aficionados and effecting political change than it is about the thrill of breaking the rules.

"We are trying to show people the beauty of technology, and how exciting it can be to find out new stuff and then do good things with that," said Rieger to the BBC.

A member of Anonymous went even further, saying the attacks were a perfectly legitimate form of protest and one that has existed for decades.

"When truck drivers go on strike they block all the roads," said the man, who only identified himself as "coldblood." "It's the same principle."

This week's Big Question from the deep-thinkers at SoulPancake: Can activism go too far?

Join the conversation!