I often feel when major hacking attacks occur -- like the one against HBGary, the cybersecurity consultants to the FBI, or Stratfor -- that somehow the damages of the hacking are never really fully reported (we never, ever, ever hear from the geeks inside these hacks, only from the anonymous ones outside them).
We also never seem to see -- all at once, in the full picture -- how much vigilantism goes on around hacking and stories where "the Internet" -- as the online mob thugs call themselves -- takes care of business.
So it's useful to round up what has happened in the case of Aaron Swartz's suicide.
o MIT's web site has been hacked, because Anonymous blames MIT for continuing to press charges against Swartz. We're constantly told that MIT had the most open servers in the universe and were very lenient to hacking -- that's evidently why they, and not Harvard, were chosen as the target for a hack -- hackers already had a habit of expoiting MIT servers to conduct other attacks.
o A petition has been started on Whitehouse.gov/petitions that has already gathered more than the 25,000 requisite number -- it has more than 34,000 -- to get an executive branch comment. So not executive discretion, or the courts, or the Congress or state assemble are to take on this task, but the mob, by flash-mobbing a petition site that you can easily jack up the numbers for by making new accounts with new emails using proxies and scripts.
o When the husband of Carmen Ortiz, Tom Dolan, a former CFO at IBM, tried to defend his wife and speak the facts of the case in the most basic way, he was bullied, harassed, pilloried, and evidently driven off the Internet (one hopes he deleted his own account, and that Swartz sympathizers among the hacking set at Twitter didn't remove him unfairly). Tellingly, he was attempting to tell off Mitch Kapor, the dean of the copyleftists who is really behind most of the organizations causing havoc on the Internet over copyright and who spear-headed the anti-SOPA campaign. He pointed out that far from any "draconian punishment," the prosecutor had offered...six months in jail in exchange for a plea of guilty.
What parents put notice of a prosecutor's six-month prison deal in their son's obituary, asks some Anonymous wag on Twitter? Well, no parent, because in an obituary, usually parents don't put their thoughts about their own political causes or assign blame for the death of their children, but try to remember their child as he was (for example, you don't see the Newtown parents taking positions on gun legislation or mental health issues in their eulogies).
There was something horribly disingenuous about those around Swartz, starting from the family and Lessing and going on down to other supporters; they let the tech media bleat on and on about the "50 year sentence" when they knew full well Swartz was offered a plea bargain of six months (!).
o Prosecutor Stephen Heymann who was also involved in Swartz's case has been the target of villification in the leftist and tech press, and his private information has been outed on the Internet and calls for pressuing and harassing him have been made. Glenn Greenwald has predictably weighed in against the Massachusetts prosecutors without interviewing them or reporting any aspect of his side of the story, mainly because like the professionals they are, these prosecutors are not speaking about the case.
Natasha Lennard's piece in Salon is typical of the tendentious pieces on this subject; Lennard is the freelance journalist who supported Occupy Wall Street and was let go from the New York Times after being arrested together with OWS demonstrators who blocked the Brooklyn Bridge; she made much of herself as a victim of the Man then, but then she was caught in a video very much supporting the people she was ostensibly covering impartially. Interestingly, her own reporting helps shed light on the actual incitement to occupy the bridge. In the Salon piece, Lennard cites...Angela Davis as an authority about prosecutions in the US. Yes, that Angela Davis.
o MIT's president appointed Hal Abelson, an obvious copyleftist sympathizer of Swartz, a Creative Commons founder, in order to investigate MIT's role in the prosecution -- precisely because he felt mob justice pressing all around him. At first I thought that he just reached for such a figure because there isn't anything else at MIT, or because he himself had these copyleftist sympathies; later I wondered if in fact he appointed an obvious sympathizer who might even see with a very jaundiced eye precisely so he could answer the baying mob.
o Anyone on any forum who raises the slightest objections about how "the Internet" sees this case is mobbed and bullied into silence.
o I myself have seen my series of posts blocked -- here's a screenshot of one such action somewhere which I couldn't figure out -- either my posts are removed, or I am blocked for posting or cleverly -- such as at Lessig's site -- my main post confronting him seems to have been removed, but other comments are left to stay
If it's just some thin-skinned geek blocking me from his Wordpress blog, that's his prerogative, of course, but I've found in the past that such persons Google bomb me to push my results down in Google, or they send complaints about my blog (!) site to malware sites and various geek administrators of the Internet with instructions to blog me as if I were some malicious site. I've caught them at this before.
After I published the blog post on Lessig, I also spent half a day trying to restore my computer to working order and connection to the Internet as I got a series of keyloggers and malware somehow on the computer although I have Kaspersky installed of course (and I will be getting rid of it when the license expires because I no longer trust this pro-Putin company).
Now, this attack that prevented me from being able to access Yahoo and other sites could be unrelated to my blog posts, and could merely be the usual routine virus problems that everyone faces every day. But that's just it: billions of dollars are spent a year all over the world trying to deal with viruses, many of them emanating from Russia and China and they exemplify the unethical and vicious and criminal role of the hacker in our lives in ways that few people ever seem to think deeply about.
Now, you might say that a bunch of kids (everyone always imagines it's kids, but Anonymous has an awful lot of 40-year-old IT specialists in big companies, too) spouting off on the Internet or hacking sites that are restored again soon isn't such a big idea. How can that be "totalitarianism", you ask?
It's worth tracking how they behave, how they grow, what methods they use, however, because we are all increasingly having to live with the results. Our elected representatives didn't get to vote on SOPA/PIPA; the president sounded off that he'd veto the bill before it even came to the floor, and the members of Congress put it off merely because of the Internet flash-mob of 7 million petitioners goosed by Google, Wikipedia, Tumblr and others (mainly the Mitch Kapor machine).
For me, my support of SOPA has always been about trying to support the rule of law and the democratic institution of Congress as much as copyright -- this is a terrible precedent, and it means we do not have a government in the real world, but an online mob that can rule us at whim. Again, it may seem trivial now and undoable by other forces, but it will get worse.
The nature of Anonymous really needs to be seen and understood as a threat to democracy and human rights.
I recall about 13 years ago I first came to this awareness hearing Peter Ludlow discuss the ethos (or lack of it) of Anonymous -- for him it was something he delighted in and celebrated, but at least he got it: far from being "freedom fighters" with tolerance for all, they don't want other people to use the Internet in any other way except the way they say. They are mullahs; they are commissars; they are rank totalitarians -- it's not just that you're muted or banned, you don't get to have a website, at all, period. It's down, it's hacked, it's disabled, and maybe all your data is taken. Whether you are the Pentagon or Gawker, if you have fallen into Anonymous sites, you don't get to have the freedom of expression they claim for themselves.
If they decide that a prosecutor is unfair or a policeman hasn't done his job -- it doesn't matter if they've used any kind of due process or due diligence or basic journalistic skills to make this determination -- those people are going down. They will have harassed, bullied, crashed, and their private information exposed. They don't even seem to understand how justice works normally and trust it -- civics isn't taught anymore, but in any event, they are impatient and want the "disruptive" and the "new" -- and they get their way.
If "the Internet" doesn't like MIT, they don't get to have an Internet site that day -- or may be the next and the day after.
If they are unhappy about their hero's suicide and blame the Man, then heads have to roll in the government -- not among the professoriat which egged him on to his crimes.
I often think of these online anarchists and rogues as the as similar to those really fiercely sectarian and ruthless pastoral Bolsheviks, the ones from the countryside, the ones for whom their first taste of three square meals a day may have come in fact in Lenin's or Stalin's labour camps, they were that poor. These people are not revolutionaries; they are fierce conformists. Vitaly Komar, the "sotsart" artist from Russia, would often explain, "revolution is a powerfully conservative force in our time". Far from being "progressive," as Bakunin or Trotsky or some urban socialist revolutionary educated in universities and from travel abroad might be in revolutionary Russia, the rank and file of the Anonymous movement is deeply rural and uneducated and stupid like the Russian serf -- and therefore more susceptible to manipulation and memes.
The change that has been wrought on the human race from the Internet is major, and the people who are supposedly leading this revolution of change -- the coders, the hackers, the anarchists -- are thought to be cutting edge and innovative and all for the new.
But in fact they want to live in a very rigidly controlled highly stylized and repetitive and ritualistic environment precisely because they fear and loathe the freedom of speech, behaviour, enterprise, and politics that comes with an unfettered Internet they don't control. They fear powerful women online especially, as my own experience of harassment has indicated, but far worst bullying such as occured with this person attempting to raise money for a film about gender stereotyping in video games.
That's how I see the genesis of the virus production mania; that's what I see at the root of griefing and hacking: a powerfully conservative, fiercely reactionary force that is actually antithetical to freedom; it is not "progressive" -- a term I generally use in scare quotes any way because those who claim to be making progress in human affairs are often regressing to old-fashioned Marxism in their solutions.
The world that Aaron Swartz and his mentors like Lessig or Doctorow want to make for us is in fact profoundly rural and pastoral, not urban.
It's not about modern commerce in the modern marketplace, where strangers pay other strangers for goods and services in an efficient and faceless manner, and where things cost money because monetary exchange is required to enable division of labour and separation of powers in society -- all good things.
For Swartz, there was instead this idyllic notion of the university, or really, something more like a monastery, perhaps, or some Renaissance guild with masters and artists and benefactors, where everything is supposed to be free. The Medici -- the donors of universities, Big IT, the government -- are just supposed to keep supplying the geniuses like Michaelangelo with money, or with commissions and connections so they can keep doing their art.
Everything is supposed to be free and shared -- collectivized -- in this idyllic utopia where peers don't have to worry about paying peers because...somebody...somewhere...is paying for all of this. It's like the vision of the state-sponsored Soviet Academy of Science which I think animates Sergey Brin's vision for Google. Not just a place of membership for scientists, but a physical and ideological home where the greatest brains go every day to commune, outfitted with all the tools and books and machines they need to work for the state -- but free to innovate and create, within certain confines...especially for the hard scientists...although certainly not for literature or sociology... Brains who were the serfs or the sons of serfs only a decade earlier...