07 December 2010

An Internet Civil War?

Check out this profile of a "hacktivist" who claims credit for disrupting both WikiLeaks and countless jihadi websites as a matter of patriotic duty. More importantly, check out the comment thread as readers take sides between "the Jester" and Julian Assange, who has today turned himself in to British authorities to answer the Swedish rape charges. Some people see characters like "Jester" (who ironically uses Heath Ledger Joker symbolism as part of his defense of American values) as betrayers of an original hacker ethos favoring the maximum availability and dissemination of information -- while the more paranoid commentators question whether he's even a real person. His defenders draw lines dividing allies and enemies more conventionally and accept unquestioningly the government line that there is information that they don't need to know. You may also be amused by spectacular displays of ignorance or illiteracy regardless of ideology, as when one dissident identifies Orson Welles as the author of 1984. The article itself raises some questions about the propriety or reliability of a lone wolf using a potent tool of his invention ("Xerxes") to do damage on the Internet, though "Jester" himself claims that his attacks cause no "collateral damage" to unoffending websites or computers. In any event, if anyone still thought the Internet was in its age of innocence, you've been wrong for a while. Information may be meant to be free, or to be known, as far as some purists are concerned, but it was never going to be free for long so long as information, as power, was of interest to the powerful. For every irregular American patriotic hacker hostile to perceived enemies, there's probably many more patriotic and duly deputized Chinese hackers and counterparts in other countries who see the Internet as open territory for the projection of national interests and power. If the American Internet has seemed to have a libertarian if not paranoid bias, that is bound to change as jingoes of all nations try to assert dominance and silence dissent. Some people still attribute revolutionary potential to the Internet, and there may still be some truth to the assessment. But now its counter-revolutionary potential cannot be denied.

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