The laziness of relying on an Internet of hats

Whenever I read an article about people being horrible online it’s now guaranteed that someone in the comments will suggest turning to “Anonymous”. Which I find confounding. It’s like an onion of ignorance, each layer as eye wateringly stupid as the last.

The first problem of course is the casual abrogating of any personal involvement with or responsibility for the problem at hand. Of course the commenter thinks its terrible, but not so terrible that they’re going to try to do anything about it themselves. No, instead they will happily turn any element of active involvement over to an internet boogeyman. And Anonymous certainly makes an excellent internet boogeyman.

The second problem is an extension of the first. In the physical world it’s generally not regarded as a good idea or anything approaching justice to turn things over a lynch mob. So why do people somehow think it’s ok to do it online? Perhaps because they’ve bought into the persistent myth that Anonymous is a) an organisation and b) has something approaching unified goals. It’s a collective of self identifying unique agents with no barriers to entry and who’s only guaranteed commonality is that they use the same identifier.

The third problem is how short-sighted it is to rely on anonymous (in the general sense) agents to carry out your supposed justice. It’s ok to harass someone, DDoS someone, DOX someone, who’s “evil”. I mean there’s no way that creating a library of techniques to tear apart someones personal life, both on and offline, could ever could come back to bite you on the arse is there? Oops, guess it did. The majority of techniques employed by the more repellent online movements, like GamersGate, have their roots in more socially progressive hacktivism. Now of course similar techniques are part of the general hackers arsenal but several of the more effective techniques can be traced directly to hacktivist activities (the fine art of using social media as a weapon for example).

The fourth, and most darkly amusing, problem is that a lot of the time these vile online actions you are suggesting Anonymous take care of are going to have been perpetrated by members of Anonymous. I read an article today about a Minecraft server for autistic kids been hacked and the poor kids were told to go kill themselves because they’re autists. That is more or less every other post on 4chan which is, lest we forget, the breeding ground of Anonymous. A 2008 quote from Trent Peacock sums it up nicely “We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the Internet who need—just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn’t be able to do in regular society. …That’s more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. … There’s a common phrase: ‘we are doing it for the lulz.'”

The fifth problem, I probably should have ordered these in something approaching severity, is believing that its going to be effective. The track record for hacktivism doing anything other than propping up news cycles is not very convincing. Anonymous in particular have a very shoddy track record of affecting any real change.

And so on, as with a lot of things in life if you have a problem with online behaviour then you should try to enact change yourself. Campaign against the injustice you see or for the change you want. It is remarkably irresponsible to turn over your responsibility (in the sense that we are all culpable for the form of the culture and society we live in) to a purposefully faceless, nameless directionless mass. I don’t want to get melodramatic and bust out Nietzsche quotes here, but you should be careful about the behaviour you unthinkingly condone in the name of convenience, laziness or salving your own conscience.

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