‘Hack The Planet’ The Ethics of Hacktivism

In this week’s lecture I was introduced to ‘The Conscience of a Hacker’ a manifesto written by hacker called +++The Mentor+++ in 1986. Reading it I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ written by Christian Kirtchev in 1997. I took the liberty of chopping a few bits of each to highlight their similarity.

This is our world now, the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud… We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals…You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all- after all, we’re all alike.

We are the ELECTRONIC MINDS, a group of free-minded rebels. We live in Cyberspace, we are everywhere, we know no boundaries. We are those, the different. Technological rats, swimming in the ocean of information… We are the student hacking computer systems, exploring the depth of his reach…Our society is sick and needs to be healed. The cure is a change in the system… We fight for freedom of information. We fight for freedom of speech and press…. We are a unit. We are Cyberpunks.

This was my first time reading ‘The Conscious Hacker’ but ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ is something that I have read countless times before as I am obsessed its anarchist undertones and the idealistic sense of freedom it promises. After looking at the two comparatively it really made me notice how hacking is so closely tied to cyberpunk ideologies. In cyberpunk novels the outcast anti-hero inevitably breaks all the rules in order to take down the evil establishment and save the world from its villainous clutches. While this is an epic perception of hacking that after watching films like Hackers and shows like MR Robot I so desperately want to be true, I have to ask myself, can the act of hacking ever be as justified as it is in cyberpunk works of fiction? Can the real world be broken down into black and white simplifications of heroes vs villains? Is there really such a thing as Hacktivism?

 

So this week I set out to determine what the ethical perspectives of hacking are. There are those that see hacking as a way of standing up for injustices and liberating people from imposed censorship. This act of hacking is seen as justified by the perpetrators as they believe the censorship is unfairly enforced and therefore a law that deserves to be broken. An example of this would be the collaboration between The Cult of the Dead Cow and The Hong Kong Blondes who launched attacks against the Chinese government to protest government censorship of Internet content. They compromised a firewall system in China, allowing Internet users in that country unrestricted access to the Web for a brief period of time and they also defaced several Chinese governmental websites.

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Hacktivism is often confused with cyberterrorism but a boundary between the two can be drawn depending on one’s definition of ‘damage’. It is important to remember that not all hacking involves breaking into systems, spying or even damaging data. Hacktivisim can be as simple as a denial-of-service attack where all that occurs is a mass volume of people generate so much traffic on a website that it crashes and no legitimate users can access it. This type of hacking is seen as a mere extension civil disobedience into the internet realm. “Civil disobedience entails the peaceful breaking of unjust laws, it does not condone violent or destructive acts against its enemies, focusing instead on nonviolent means to expose wrongs, raise awareness, and prohibit the implementation of perceived unethical laws by individuals” (Manion & Goodrum). In this instance the hackers see no difference between this and picketing in the street to deny people access to a building. “Activists here are attempting to bring about social change through non-violent means; whereas activists in the past trespassed and blockaded physical positions of power, hacktivists now would seize control of the new positions of power—cyberspace—and without all those nasty guns, water cannons, dogs, billy clubs and tear gas” (Julie Thomas).

There are those however who believe denial-of-service attacks to be against the hacker code because they themselves are a form of censorship and violate the right to free speech- which in the true roots of the hacker culture is a fundamental law that must never be broken (even if it is against your enemies). One of the world’s most famous hackers who believes whole heartedly in this ideal is Julian Assange, he has no qualms about sneaking into closed systems and revealing private information but does not believe in the destruction of information in any way. Assange is practically a pure personification of the old school hacker mentality in that he is a utilitarian extremist who promotes the total transparency of information. To him, his actions are justified because as all information should be free regardless of consequence. What people chose to do with the information does not change the fact that it should not be kept hidden. Absolute truth is the only moral decisional direction.

In the end the ethics of hacking all comes down to the age old question of does ends justify the means? While different hackers have different codes of ethics and different definitions of damage, every act is circumstantial and instead of being broken down into wright and wrong should be judged in term of what was stood to be gained and at what cost?

From Vietnam to Arab Spring: Mediums Facilitating Revolution

Last week I very briefly touched on the concept of citizen journalism being a way of getting around traditional news media’s tendency to depict war as tame and unobtrusive for the sake of maintaining public support. Today I would like to discuss this a little further and connect it back to idea that the ability to illustrate the true nature of things is facilitated by global networks, convergent technological flows and the rise of social platforms. Not only that but social media has become a way for revolutionists to come together, organise operations and share their messages on a mass scale with little barrier to entry.

Prior to the Vietnam War all the information that everyday people could obtain about war came from mainstream media channels like newspapers and radio, there simply were no other mediums and the general public was given a highly mediated, white washed version of events. By this I mean propaganda campaigns that harboured wide spread support and a sense of patriotism.

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“By the mid-1960’s, television was considered to be the most important source of news for the American public, and, possibly, the most powerful influence on public opinion itself” Erin McLaughlin For the first time the public were seeing war first hand. The horrors entered people’s living rooms and in between school, work and dinners, anyone could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death and soldiers in body bags. For obvious reasons this created mass opposition to the war and widespread protests. Fast forward to the now and you will see that news corporations, who jump through hoops for the hand that feeds, take every precaution not to make that mistake again.

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The news coverage of war today paints a story reminiscent of early propaganda campaigns, with the us versus them mentality and imagery of merry marching soldiers doing little more than hanging out in barracks and pressing buttons on fancy war machines.  Gordon Mitchel explains how the introduction of smart weaponry allows for a controlled way of marketing war to the public that is alienated from the direct reality of the battlefield. “Bombardiers wielded hand-held Nintendo-like devices that help pilots guide precision weaponry and computerized navigation aids to make their way to their targets – not real locations but map coordinates displayed on a VDU”…”there was little to distinguish the coalition pilots’ experience from training runs made in simulation machines”.

Vietnam War U.S. Casualties

 Sept 18, 1966 

 

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Today 

The problem with legacy media is “you’ve got to be silent, to be spoken to- passivity is the logic of that technology” (Richard Senett). Luckily for us we live in an age where you do not just have to rely on monolithic media for your information. We have the internet where information flows freely and citizens upload imagery of war and injustice every day, the truth is out there you just need to look. The ability to do this is a direct result of technological convergence. Convergent mediums have allowed for mobilisation, coordination and dissemination to take place which has in turn has given people, who would otherwise not have voices, the freedom to broadcast messages not in sync with the official agenda. The mobile aspect of modern technology means that people can bring their devices with them capturing things as they unfold and staying connected to the web. The coordination aspect means platforms like FB and Twitter can facilitate revolution by giving activists a place to come together and plan action at great speed and across distance. The dissemination aspect means that messages from individual nodes can be broadcasted to the masses without difficulty and the extent of the spread is massive in scale.

When all these elements come together to create a hive of connectivity the capability emerges for small individuals to enact large change. However simply having the ability to do does not guarantee it will happen, you need to have the right influencers, the right cause and circumstances where action is achievable at a local level (think globally act locally). But when this does happen it gives individuals the power to change the world, Arab Spring is a perfect example of this.

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over harassment from city officials, the local news media sprouted the message that he was merely a psychopath. None the less his death sparked attention all across the globe when the true story was shared across the net and began fueling outrage. The same again occurred when Khaled Mohamed Saeed was beaten to death and the Egyptian government claimed he died of chocking.

By this point protest had already begun to rage but a turning point in the series of events occurred when young blogger Asmaa Mahfouz made a video pleading people to stand up for their rights and take a stand. In this video, that went completely viral, she set a date which germinated the hashtag #Janury25. From there YouTube channels emerged such as Free Egypt where content from the protests could be catalogued and publicly shown. Facebook became a breeding ground for activist communities to form and legitimize and when the Egyptian government cut its people off from the internet, Google and Twitter joined forces giving Egyptian citizens, isolated from the rest of the world, the ability to share their stories globally.

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While this all occurred from the right combination of people and events, it is no doubt that technology played a part in shaping the outcomes. This is pure example of the power that connected technologies can bring and proof that networked systems always beat monolithic ones.

The Death of Legitimacy

If you have been following my weekly posts you will know that I last discussed the idea posed by Eric Raymond that networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because more is accomplished at a faster rate due to mass participation… “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. Last week I was referring to this in terms of Apple vs Android and the concept of a single closed source entity vs a collective open sourced network. Well today I would like to revisit that concept from the angle of traditional legacy media channels vs illegitimate citizen journalism.

Traditional Legacy media channels are your television networks, radio stations and newspapers (so basically anything owned by Rupert Murdoch). This model operates on a one to many archetype where information in scarce and value comes from the production and distribution of content. In this media paradigm the News Corporations become the authority on what is considered news and the selection of content is as simple as deciding what information might be interesting. As New York Times proclaims they are “All the news that’s fit to print” and you don’t really get much say.

Axel Burns makes a point that correlates well here “while the audience retained the right to buy or not by the paper and to switch on and off the television this amounted to a choice between news as it was offered or a self-imposed news blackout”(that’s not the exact quote but it’s something along those lines).

These days the Legacy media model still exists but is arguably on the cusp of becoming obsolete. When millions of web users create content every day that can be freely accessed, the creation of content becomes valueless and instead attention turns to the aggregation of content- the sorting, tagging and packaging of information into personalised bundles of interest. This has given rise to new media model where news is collectively generated and shared by individual users over social platforms. Instead of seeing a story from one news giants perspective who is limited to time and space you are able to gain the full perspective from the hundreds of snippets of the same story from all over the web. Think of it in terms of footage, when a news team cover a story they have one camera man capturing from one angle and that is all you will see on the television but if you search the hashtag of the same story you may find hundreds of videos from countless angles filmed by people who were there on their smart phones. The value in this instance comes not from the individual videos uploaded by the users but in the platforms ability to group them under a unified tag.

“Yes they were built entirely out of 140 character messages but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantial like a suspension bridge made of pebbles” (Steve Johnson).

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News giants would have you believe their dated model still holds value in the authority. They argue that citizen journalism is ‘illegitimate’ journalism and that the only shinning beacon amongst the dark depths of the information avalanche is highly produced content that guarantees quality and validity. While there is truth to this ideal (the internet is a disturbing place), it is not always the case and I don’t just mean because every week Channel Nine runs a story on why sugar is bad for you (Goddammit that’s not news!). I am talking about what I mentioned earlier when I said all bugs are shallow given enough eyeballs.

Participatory news platforms like Twitter and Reddit are always on and moving so fast through iterations that inaccuracies are weeded out by the enormous public faster than a singular news entity could even dream of. Meanwhile having such a small amount of staff working as hard as they can to pump content out as quickly as information arises results in errors slipping through the cracks. Remember the time that Danish news channel accidentally thought Assassin’s Creed was real and used it as backdrop to their news story. To illustrate conflict in present-day Syria, TV2 used an image from Assassin’s Creed digitally depicting Damascus 720 years ago. While that little mistake managed to make it all the way to air it was picked up and shared all over social media within minutes. What was that argument about legitimacy again?

 

 

On the other hand the concept of citizen journalism does bring froth a debate about privacy in the public sphere. The thing about legacy media is they are slow but by being legitimate they must go through all sorts of legal steps ensuring they have permission to film people before sharing it on television. Whereas citizens on the street record who ever, whenever and with very little regard for privacy. If we think back to the Vietnam War, that was the first time real footage of war was shown on public television and is a major contributing factor for opposition to the war. These days war is painted differently to prevent opposition, its ‘Nintendo warfare’, showing only soldiers behind computers pushing buttons. Citizen journalism gets around this being real people sharing real footage as it is, uncensored and raw.  This also means however that in delicate situations like war we are seeing videos surface the net of mothers crying over dead children, with their mutilated bodies open for public display. While this is necessarily for revealing the true nature of war and stopping people from turning a blind eye to it, it generates the question where do you draw the line between truth and respect?

Normalising The Niche

“The Internet imposes no barriers to entry, no economies of scale and no limits of supply”(Clay Shirky).

There is an abundance of information literally flooding the net and media itself has changed from an organised stream of information created by legitimate providers, to a convergent mass of shared information created by illegitimate prosumers. Traditional media channels such as television and the newspaper lose their value when new media models grant users content for free.

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Legacy media channels with their high cost of entry are being undercut by “The people formally known as audience” (Jay Rosen) as everyday amateurs are able to create and share content without cost and without risk of failure. So what this means for the global media landscape is that in an age where content is in surplus, value comes not from being a distributor who controls data access but from aggregators who control attention.

The best example I can give of this is Foxtel vs Netflix. Foxtel is a distributor, it plays shows like Game of Thrones periodically at certain times. The value of these shows is evaluated by the amount of people that watch them. Netflix is an aggregator, a digital cloud of shows that people are free to choose from. The value of these shows comes from being chosen.

Traditional forms of ratings measurement no longer have the capacity to reflect modern viewing habits. Just because no one is watching a show on television does not mean it is not being watched and as a result of this miss-reflection thousands of loyal fans almost lost what was in my opinion one of the best shows on television. Community was cancelled due to low ratings until Hulu picked it up as a web only series allowing the fandom to continue. It just so happened that the show had a following, but its followers were all binge watching pirates who liked to stream at their own convenience.

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Game Of Thrones Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

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Community Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

What allows this viewing practice to happen is something called The Long Tail Effect, where our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products and markets toward a huge number of niches (LongTail.com).

In the traditional media paradigm the mass market always beats the niche but as Chris Anderson explains “What matters now is not where customers are or how many are seeking a particular title but only that some number of them exist anywhere”.

Think Amazon, it is not confined by the physical space of each individual store and therefore does not limit itself to only the bestselling books. The digital search and demand environment allows them to stretch their operations to the extremities of niche culture and still remain profitable. Now you have access to all the obscure books your heart desires at the click of a button and a short wait on delivery.

The benefit of this is that people get out the habit of simply following the mainstream, they freely peruse their own interests and movies such as Juno and Like Crazy get watched as well as massive blockbusters like The Avengers. The negative is that this sometimes prevents us from stumbling onto new discoverers. Have you ever watched a movie you never heard of simply because it was TV? Alternatively have you ever not known what to search for online and just ended up watching something you have already seen? The abundance of information leads to the scarcity of attention and when we are faced with choice we often stick to what we know, whereas the dictation of information can force us to take notice of things we wouldn’t of otherwise.

Jaron Lanier and Eli Pariser argue that when aggregators such as Google sort us into categories based on the niche interests we express, we run the risk of being given back to ourselves through the filtering of content. But at the same time it gives us opportunity to further ourselves beyond mainstream culture. It is important we expand our attention past our own little bubbles, after all there is so much to explore in cyberspace.

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Controlled Cyber Freedom

Significantly better than last weeks, now with 30% less tongue ties…

“Cyberspace, as Gibson imagined it nearly 30 years ago, was – or would be – a realm of total-immersion virtual reality…The hero of Neuromancer jacks in to the matrix, his inner eye sees a transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity on which graphic representations of data re abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system” (Thomas Jones).

What happened to world Gibson envisioned? While we are close to this vision – living in a highly convergent, ultra technological, globally connected world – it is almost like we are running parallel to this vision never quite reaching it. While our current technology systems give us opportunity to connect and contribute to the virtual cyber world. we have sacrificed bits of our freedom for the sake of aesthetic coherence and convenient usability. You must agree to terms and conditions before using sites like Facebook, you must send your messages through them and adhere to their format limitations.

I remember when android phones first came about, Steve Jobs- the father of walled gardens himself- appeared on television saying something along the lines of “We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say we have given up our control and often our privacy for a sense of security.

 

Joining the Anime Community

Nakama (仲間 ) is a Japanese word that directly translates to friend or comrade. Many fans of the series One Piece believe the word means “people who are considered closer than family”, though that is not a part of the dictionary definition of the word. This unofficial meaning came about as a result of fan subbing. During the Arlong Park arc a fan subbing group by the name of Kaizoku Fan Subs decided to the leave the word untranslated giving viewers the impression it held special meaning that could not be evoked by the English word friend. This trend has been continued by other fan subbing groups and has even flown into other anime series. (One Piece Wiki)

What is interesting about this is, the original Japanese viewers do not get this connotation from the word and neither do people who watch the official English dubbed versions. The word only holds special meaning to those who watch the series in subtitled English. The reason why I find this so interesting is because it highlights to me how the transnational flow of anime can significantly impact the way in which you experience it. Something as simple as a single instance of translation miss-alignment can change the way you read the entire anime. When I see the main protagonist Luffy fighting for his crew, his feats of unfathomable strength make perfect sense to me because he is fighting for the people he loves. To me they are not just his friends they are his nakama and that is why he is willing to sacrifice everything for them.

This is a belief I hold alongside many others and as such we are connected by this experience. In fact nakama is the word that fans of the subbed series often use to describe each other. We see ourselves as a community who is bound by our love for one piece and consider ourselves to be closer than family because of this bond.

This week in order to become more incorporated with my One Piece family I began to posting on the forum I joined earlier. Interestingly enough the tagline for this very forum is ‘We Are All Nakama”.

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What I did was post the pictures of myself in One Piece, cosplay makeup onto the forum. This was a very different experience to posting them onto Instagram. The feeling of self consciousness I had previously felt when posting these pictures onto Instagram completely subsided. The anonymity that the forum provides may have something to do with this but I feel it had more to do with the fact that the users of the forum are my people. Every member is on there because they, like myself, are a huge fan of One Piece. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed because I knew they would get it. I knew they would understand me and that was powerfully uplifting and warming feeling. The fact that I felt more comfortable sharing these self images with complete strangers than I did with my actual friends and family really says a lot about how online communities can create meaningful  interactions that allow people to connect in a ways they may not have thought possible.

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Above is a screenshot of the original post. Within minutes this post started threading and I am currently at 128 views. Sure its not the most popular thing on the forum but this is a far greater outcome than I was expecting.

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The best part of this was that it started conversation. People began asking me how I did certain things and how long it took to do them. Immediately I found myself having entire discussions with people new people. It was a very rewarding experience. People even started to make requests of which characters they wanted to see done next. Not wanting to let them down I did another cosplay of the character that was asked for the most. I was really excited to do this because I knew people wanted me to. My auto ethnographic experience evolved from something i was doing just for myself to something I was doing for my new nakama.

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Becoming One With The Anime

Last week I continued my auto-ethnographic experience; engaging in some more cosplay make up for the anime One Piece. Unfortunately I did not have a chance edit and upload them so I will be doing two blog posts this week :S

To update you on my previous posts, I have chosen Anime as the topic for my final project. More specifically I want to discuss how Anime has been a major part of my life growing up and how engaging with it makes me feel connected to my kindred anime loving spirits. This is a connection that spans globally as convergent technologies allow me to interact with wider anime communities regardless of distance. While  becoming more involved in these communities makes me feel connected to the niche it also has the ability to make me feel disconnected from what is considered mainstream here in Australia. There have been many instances in my life where others have made fun of me for watching, as they  blatantly put it,”Silly Japanese Cartoons” but there have also been times where something as simple as having a One Piece key chain is enough incentive for a total stranger to strike up a conversation with you.

A perfect example of this, that I can remember, was one time at work. It was a normal mundane day at the o’l IGA and I was standing behind the counter serving on auto pilot. A boy around the age of 16 (I think) came up to the counter to buy a can of coke. When he went to pay I noticed he had a One Piece wallet and being a lover of all thing OP, I was all like “Nice wallet, One Piece is the best”. He was completely taken aback and replied with “You.. you watch..One Piece”, I’m still not sure if it was because he was simply excited that an opportunity to discuss anime had come up or if this was the first time a girl had spoken to him but needless to say we had ourselves a grand discussion. Ever since then the same boy comes into work on a regular basis and every time we converse about the latest episode and what we think is going to happen next. I still have no idea what this boys name is but we are now connected by our love of One Piece.

What I have been noticing a lot lately is that watching anime here in Aus is becoming more and more popular. There has always been a huge fan market, but I feel like now it is becoming more accepted. In my own experience I am noticing that the instances where people make fun of me for watching anime are rapidly decreasing and suddenly it is not unusual to watch it. At uni alone I have met heaps of people who love it as much as I do and plenty of them have been girls; which is good to see because it used always seem to be only boys.

On to my experience…

Last week I did make up for the characters Enel and Buggy and today I posted them onto my personal Instagram account.

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Once again the experience of posting these to my account was a little scary because once again I was worried that people who don’t watch anime would think I was weird. This worry was misguided though because I received many positive responses from people who have never even heard of One Piece. Even with the positive remarks I still found myself justifying my actions by telling people I was doing this for uni. This can be seen in the first picture. The truth is I wasn’t just doing it for uni, It was for my own fun and after taking the pictures I found myself running around the house pretending to be the characters it was awesome. I don’t really know why I felt the need to explain myself, I guess it just comes down to a confidence issue stemming from negative past experiences. I used to always wish I was born Japan, I wanted to grow up in culture so immersed in Anime they erect 18 meter scale replica Gundam Robots in the capital city. Maybe then no one would think I was strange.

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