Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hacktivism: The New Activism of the Internet Age

Democracy is equal footing in the collective exercise of decision-making through town hall meeting, referendums, or by voting on all laws. To enable this equality to remain a characteristic of a democratic government, the collective should be completely informed and be able to exercise their opinions or demands, in decision-making situations. In the U.S., voters exercise their decision-making right through voting of representatives that will, in turn, legislate in their names. This is a form of republicanism, not democracy. Yet, the U.S. is called a "democracy." Democracy in the context of the U.S. federal government (the body that makes the most important political and economic decisions) means that it derives power from voters and is accountable to them, not that it will engage people in referendums or ballot initiatives, thus reflecting its republican basis. Nonetheless, the U.S. engages in democratic political behavior such as at the state level where referendums and ballot initiatives are undertaken. These bodies are not individually in charge of lawmaking at the federal level, though. Further, the U.S. bestows on its citizens protection of their civil liberties and human rights, which for many are considered democratic practices.

The constant use of "democracy" rhetoric (especially in the context of war and protecting freedoms and liberties) at the federal policy-making forum has led many to believe that the U.S. is a democratic form of government where people are given an active role in decision-making. The U.S. government that we voted for has systematically lied to us about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other issues. Therefore, since the republican from of government enables us to hold politicians accountable, we should be able to know what they have lied to us about and how they are doing the job we elected them for. Moreover, since the wide-spread perception of the government being "democratic", and open for people to play an active role in it, has led many people to want to actively engage in it by uncovering its faults and wanting to change them. Thus, groups such as Anonymous have taken it upon themselves the active role of salvaging their, and our, right to free flow of information vital to democratic public participation (and republicanism's accountability discourse).

In the context of an informed and politically active democratic government (as made to be perceived in the U.S.), political and decision-making transparency is imperative. Hence, whistleblowers such as Wikileaks are a valuable tool to keep us informed with legitimate information about our government and those chosen to represent us (even in the republicanist basis the government is actually built upon). These types of projects enable us to stay informed but, moreover, to begin playing an active role in the political game of democracies. Sharing important information that our government has distorted or kept from the public informs us about the agendas of the people we have chosen to make governmental and political decisions. Additionally, it helps us assess the quality of the government elected to govern us and potentially
lead us to initiate change in it.

Governmental secrecy undermines democracy. It leads to lies and makes us perceive that political actors are hiding information from us for fear of disapproval. Thus, this fear of disapproval is what legitimizes the transparency rhetoric. In the democratic sense, the public should be aware of political motivations and moves made by the people we elect. If we may disapprove of something, we have legitimate reasons to raise our voice and actively change the course of the political game. By the government keeping information secret it is undermining the democratic values of informed opinions and active political participation.

However, in the U.S. the lack of transparency from the government has led the public to take matters into their own hands. Hacktivism has allowed us to find the lies with which the government has made us approve of a war that has turned out to be more of a take over of the Middle East's political and economic realms than a legitimate fight against terrorism threats (as well as many other lies we have been fed).

Nonetheless, there are several issues raised in hackivist behavior. For one, the non-identity status problematizes the legitimate political cry for more transparency since hacktivists are not transparent in their behavior themselves. However, the legal ramifications against the hacktivists forces them to avoid this type of transparency. Regardless, in the realm of political activism it is unacceptable. However, hacktivism is not protests in the classical sense. It is a characteristic of the new internet connected world. Another issue it raises is the potential ramifications of the right to free flow of information. Governments, as in the case of the U.S., may take retaliatory and protecting measures against those who dare pull this again. Thus, the public in general may lose more than gain from it.

In spite of that, the lack of transparency coupled with the repressive measures taken by the federal government against those who protest in the classic sense (remember the anti war activists who had their houses raided and where subpoenaed to a Grand Jury?!!!) has lead activism to take a new arena. That is the internet; where by the virtue of its openness and freedom has developed a new type of offensive against the established order. Despite the negative connotations that hacktivism may have, it is a legitimate form of protest where others have been exhausted or outlawed.

Lastly, we are not advocating for a free for all cyberspace in which rights and liberties are violated. Rather, it is a legitimate arena in which we seek to uncover the undemocractic practices the governments we have elected use. Since we don't have the capital to wage media campaigns to divert public opinion nor do we have the man power (military) to force anything to change, we have the legitimate right to seek alternatives. Good or bad, hacktivism has proven to be an effective way of raising awareness about issues people ignore because governments opaque or distort them. Moreover, a "cyberwar" through hacktivism does not have the civilian casualties that traditional warfare has. Nobody is killed! Yet, it is more dangerous to those who seek to control the disempowered due to the anonymity of the net as well as the effectiveness of having actual facts available to a larger group of people for free. In all, cyberwarfare is the new form of activism of the internet age!

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