Hacktivism: Releasing the Power of Technology for Social Change

This week in class, we read an article on CNN concerning the state of internet censorship in North Korea. The essential message conveyed by the article is that North Korea is a long way from being a free and open society, especially when it comes to technology and accessing information through the Internet. Technology  and access to information is a powerful equalizer- applicable to all functions of equality from quality of education to economic opportunity. Conversely, as is the case with North Korea, technology can also be used as a tool of oppression by restricting access to information and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

Yesterday, CNN reported that the hacker collective identifying as themselves as Anonymous, is beleived to havhacked the official North Korea Flickr account and Twitter account. The Flickr account hosted a “wanted” poster with an image showing Kim with a pig’s ears and nose-accusing Kim of “threatening world peace with ICBMs and nuclear weapons.” Anonymous demanded the resignation of Kim, democracy in North Korea, and uncensored Internet access for all North Koreans.

The Anonymous collective is part of a greater movement called hacktisism, a form of electronic civil disobedience that employs the use of technology and internet to promote political ends, human rights, free speech  and information ethics. Hacktivism is carried out under the promise that proper use of technology produces an impact similar to those produced by protest, activism, and civil disobedience.

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A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, explains a hacktivist as, “someone who uses technology hacking to effect social change”. The opinion piece classifies hacktivism as being “fundamentally  about refusing to be intimidated or cowed into submission by any technology, about understanding the technology and acquiring the power to repurpose it to our individual needs, and for the good of the many.” However, there is currently a divide between different interpretations of hacktivists. The conflict is between “those who want to change the meaning of the word to denote immoral, sinister activities and those who want to defend the broader, more inclusive understanding of hacktivists”.

Hacking is illegal. However, in some countries, protesting is as well. This leads to the question of whether the intent of hacking holds enough worth and importance to over-write the technical illegality of the act it-self. People in North Korea do not have the option to achieve change through social media simply by the fact that everything they do online is tied to their identity, making it very dangerous to speak out against the government or try to access information outside North Korea’s censored barriers. The utilization of technology and social media as a tool of social progress has proven to be imperative. Again and again, having access to social media has proven to be an invaluable tool in fighting oppression as exemplified in recent movements such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict in which access to information and unbiased media sources is near impossible. If Anonymous hacked official North Korean sites to try to change the state of censorship, oppression and restricted access to information of its citizens, should it be considered illegal? Or should it be considered an act of civil disobedience committed for the betterment of North Korean citizens?

An article published by info security holds that ” regardless of political motivation or intent, if there are victims of the attacks they perpetrate, then hacktivism has crossed the line.” Conversely, hacking collectives like Anonymous believe that technologies should be in the hands of the people rather than out of their control, implying that the intent of their actions weighs more than the illegal nature of their hacks.

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One response to “Hacktivism: Releasing the Power of Technology for Social Change

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