In a society that values technology for both its potential for good and its capability for evil, the “hactivism” tactics of loosely-affiliated hacker group Anonymous has provided a glimpse into the shifting boundaries of law, ethics and the morals of activism.
The group uses its collective expertise to manipulate the system in a way that, to its followers, is morally right.
Despite working for human rights, a valiant cause, the tactics of the group are ethically wrong. Yet they have created important dialogue that needs to be considered as technology improves and the borders of our society change with further globalization.
When Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring movement in 2010, demonstrations and protests ensued that threatened the tenure of long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The Tunisian government tried to block Internet communications in and out of the country. Disturbed, the Anonymous hactivists sprung to action by hacking the Tunisian government’s servers and showing the rebellion how to go around the government’s ploy, according to Al Jazeera.
More recently, Anonymous has hacked Israeli government websites, leaving messages saying “Stop bombing Gaza!! We Anonymous will not sit back and watch a cowardly Zionist State demolish innocent people’s lives.”
Perhaps its greatest trait, Anonymous does not have a leader. It does not have a headquarters and it seems nearly impossible to know for sure who is in the group. The only thing that connects the group of hackers is that they collect intelligence of wrongdoing and combine their forces to try and eradicate it.
Their adage, “we are anonymous, we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget, expect us,” sends a clear message of their intentions towards those they deem a threat to society.
Despite its work against these enemies, its tactics are intimidating and unconventional in that the group does not wish physical harm on perpetrators of rights violations; only a revelation of a hidden truth in need of exposure.
What makes Anonymous strikingly intimidating is that it uses tactics that are ethically wrong to achieve goals that are morally right. The ethical dilemma of whether or not to condone this type of vigilantism begs to question the reasons the vigilante acts are conducted.
To just play devil’s advocate would undermine the serious consequences that borderline lawlessness can create. If the system of checks and balances that Anonymous is trying to put in place becomes too strong, it raises the concern of who would be able to stand up to the power that the group gained through working outside of the law.
There are evils in this world. For every tragedy and transgression that occurs, there is a tendency to question whether something could have been done. Anonymous has gained our attention in ousting those who they believe to be evil and it can only continue as long as their “Robin Hood” mentality does not escalate to anything more nefarious.