By Jason Menard
For an organization whose name reflects its desire to remain unidentified by the masses, Anonymous certainly seems to have no problem compromising the anonymity of the very people whose support it should be coveting. It’s not just the image of Guy Fawkes that Anonymous has assumed to represent itself — it’s also Fawkes’ disregard for the value of innocent bystanders.
Through their behaviour, Anonymous that it is far from the altruistic defenders of the Internet they’d like you to believe. Instead, they’re little more than extremely smart cyber bullies who think nothing of the collateral damage caused by their hacktivism.
Recently Anonymous has been featured in the mainstream media: first for the promise by some claiming to be part of the group that it will kill Facebook on Nov. 5, 2011 – Guy Fawkes Day; and, secondly, for Sunday’s cyberattack of San Francisco’s mass transit system in response to the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s decision to disable wireless service last Thursday in an attempt to quell protests over a fatal shooting by transit police.
In the end, what both activities show is how little this organization cares for the common Internet user.
By publishing the contact information of over 2,000 BART users (including names, phone numbers, street addresses, and email addresses), Anonymous effectively made 2,000 innocent people collateral damage to their protest. The cause could be considered
noble — Anonymous standing up for the principle of free speech. But why drag innocents into this battle? The organization requested a peaceful protest to take place today, with participants standing up for individual rights – the very same rights for which they’ve shown so little regard by publishing personal information.
The same goes for the planned Facebook attack. Although it appears that this isn’t an event supported by all of Anonymous, it again will harm only the innocents. Sure, you can protest what you believe is Facebook’s selling of personal information, but why damage a service that’s used by families to stay in touch with friends and post photos
of their vacations?
Who benefits from these actions? In fact, it’s the very people that Anonymous is trying to draw attention to. Facebook and BART come out of this looking like the victims. On-line comments have taken to referring to Anonymous as cyber-terrorists. Instead of drawing people to their cause, Anonymous has effectively drowned out their message through the audacity of their methods.
For all the good that it can do (creating a site to help Iranians send and receive information during the 2009 election protests; supporting WikiLeaks and its mission of transparency in government), the organization can also shoot itself in the foot (posting pornographic videos on YouTube with family friendly tags like “Jonas brothers”, and attacks on Sony).
You can go from cheering on their actions to wondering if they’re little more than the stereotypical nerdy comic-book geeks taking out his or her revenge in the most puerile and offensive manner possible. Chances are, there’s a little bit of both in there.
Preying on the weak on the Internet is like shooting fish in a barrel. Most people – myself included – are just not sufficiently skilled at protecting our identities and information on-line. We do our best, knowing full well that there are those out there who could easily
exploit our lack of knowledge. And we hope that the people who do have this knowledge and power will use their skills for good.
There is a place for cyberhacking in our world, just as there is for peaceful protest of all types. But like unions and protestors who decide to block regular citizens from getting where they need to go during strikes and actions, Anonymous runs the risk of angering the very people it should be courting.
When you have the power, knowledge, and intelligence to do so much good, why waste it hurting innocents? There are real evils out there that need to be exposed; there are better weapons to use than posting some grandmother’s home address and phone number on a Web site for all to see. And by courting those innocents instead of harming them, you gain a valuable ally in the furthering of your cause.
It’s important to remember that Guy Fawkes, the image that Anonymous uses to represent itself, was part of the Gunpowder Plot – a plan by a small group of English Catholics who wanted to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic head of state. The plot would have seen them blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. And while King James would have died, so too would many innocents. In taking their image from Fawkes, it appears that Anonymous has also assumed his disregard for the value of innocent bystanders.
To quote Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It’s too bad Anonymous chooses to abuse its power, when the potential is there for them to do so much good.