A loosely organized group of hackers has been targeting oppressive regimes and has said this is just the beginning.
The tendency to relate past events to what is possible in the present becomes more difficult as the scope of the geopolitical environment changes. It is a useful thing, then, to ask every once in a while if the environment has recently undergone any particular severe changes, thereby expanding our options for the future.
Terminology, let alone our means of exchanging information, has changed to such a degree that many essential discussions in today’s “communications age” would be entirely incomprehensible to many two decades ago.
As the social, political and technological environment has developed, some have already begun to explore new options, seizing new chances for digital activism – and more will soon join in. It is time for the rest of the world to understand why.
When a release by WikiLeaks revealed the depravity of just how corrupt and horrid the Tunisian government really was, it prompted Tunisians to step up active dissent and take to the streets en masse for the first time.
In response, a loose network of participants within the international Anonymous protest organisation attacked non-essential government websites – those not providing direct services to Tunisians – at the prompting of our contacts.
Several such sites were replaced with a message of support to the Tunisian people, while others were pushed offline via distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, involving thousands of computer users who request large amounts of data from a website simultaneously, overwhelming it.
Other assistance programmes followed, even after the deposed Ben Ali fled the nation that reviled him, with Anonymous and other parties working with Tunisians – both in-country and abroad – to provide the nation’s people with the tools and information resources they needed to begin building up new, reasonable political institutions capable of ensuring a freer civic life.
Our “Guide to Protecting the Tunisian Revolution” series – a collaboration between hundreds of veterans of traditional revolutionary movements as well as practitioners of “new activism” – were disseminated both online and in print; aside from tips on safety during confrontation and the like, these also explain how to establish secure yet accessible networks and communications for Tunisians, as well as instructions on establishing neighbourhood syndicates capable of uniting in common cause.
Already, such organisations are being established across Tunisia, just as they will be established elsewhere as the movement proceeds.
The seeds of cyber revolution
Anonymous is a means by which people across the globe can assist in the hard work being performed by the Tunisian people – who have long taken issue with their government, but first began protesting in earnest after a fruit vendor set himself ablaze in response to police cruelty.
The Anonymous movement itself grew out of message boards frequented mostly by young people with an interest in internet culture in general – and Japanese media in particular; in 2005, participants began “attacking” internet venues as a sort of sport, and in the process honed their skills in a way that proved useful in “information warfare”.
In 2007, some users proposed that the Church of Scientology be exposed for its unethical and sometimes violent conduct, sparking a coordinated global protest movement that differed from anything else seen, and which still continues today.
The Australian government was later attacked for introducing new internet censorship laws, and in the meantime, those within Anonymous who see the subculture as a potential force for justice have launched other efforts while also building new strategies and recruiting individuals from across the globe – some of whom hold significant positions in media, industry, and the sciences.
For great justice
In the meantime, there are obstacles to overcome. Those within the Tunisian government who seek to deny liberty to “their” people are easy enough to deal with; the greatest threat to revolution comes not from any state but rather from those who decry such revolutions without understanding them.
In this case, the idea that a loose network of people with shared values and varying skill sets can provide substantial help to a population abroad is seen as quixotic – or even unseemly – by many of those who have failed to understand the past ten years, as well as those whose first instinct is to attack a popular revolt rather than to assist it.
Elsewhere, a number of US pundits decided to criticise the revolution as possibly destabilising the region; many of whom once demanded the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – and greeted every Arab revolt as the work of President Bush – but now see nothing for themselves in the cause of Arab liberty.
Some have even portrayed the movement as the work of radical Islamists – yet most cannot find Tunisia on a map.
Suffice to say that the results of our efforts are already on display and will become more evident as Tunisians use our tools and resources to achieve their greatest triumph. Those who wish to assist and are competent to do so can find us easily enough; the Tunisians had little trouble in doing so.
Although we have made great progress in convincing individuals from across the world to join our efforts in Tunisia, other campaigns, such as those taking place in Algeria and Egypt – both of which have seen government websites taken down and/or replaced by Anonymous, more must be done before the movement takes the next step towards a worldwide network capable of perpetual engagement against those who are comfortable with tyranny.
The revolution will be broadcast
Whatever effort is required, such a goal is not only possible, but rather unambitious.
There is a reason, after all, that those of us who have seen the movement up close have dedicated our lives to what it stands for, and have even violated the modern Western taboo of believing in something.
I have been involved with Anonymous in some capacity or another for about six years.
Looking back at my writing over that time, I have found that my predictions, while always enthusiastic, nonetheless turned out to have been conservative; when Australia became the first state to come under attack by this remarkable force, I proposed that we would someday see such allegedly inevitable institutions begin to crumble in the face of their growing irrelevance.
Someday turned out to be this year.
Today, I predict that Anonymous and entities like it will become far more significant over the next few years than is expected by most of our similarly irrelevant pundits – and this will, no doubt, turn out to be just as much of an understatement as anything else that has been written on the subject.
The fact is that the technological infrastructure that allows these movements has been in place for well under a decade – but phenomena such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous have already appeared, expanded, and even become players within the geopolitical environment; others have come about since.
This is the future, whether one approves or not, and the failure on the part of governments and media alike to understand, and contend with the rapid change now afoot, ought to remind everyone concerned why it is that this movement is necessary in the first place.
The author identifies as part of Anonymous, a loose collective of internet hacktivists which uses the technological infrastructure on which the globalised world depends to maintain a vigilante presence online.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.