Hacker Politics and Publics
In recent months, much of the world’s attention has turned to Anonymous, the rhizomatic, digitally based protest movement, and WikiLeaks, the tightly controlled organization famous for facilitating whistle-blowing and publishing classified and secret materials. Although it is too early to assess the long-term impact of either of these, their interventions have already proved to be significant and notable. For instance, Anonymous has catalyzed debates as to whether distributed denial-of- service attacks are a legitimate protest tactic, while WikiLeaks has spurred often heated reflections on the changing face of journalism. These two examples of digitally based politics warrant sustained attention to provide an analysis that should also exceed, even if it draws from, the materials, such as manifestos and memoirs produced by these technological actors.
One way to start building a deeper analytic of these political forms is by comparing their different faces. On the surface, the two examples I opened with are strikingly different: WikiLeaks is associated, almost entirely, with one figure, Julian Assange, whose personality is as much the subject of news as is the exclusive organization he helped build. In contrast, Anonymous is premised on a robust antileader, anticelebrity ethic, and its operations are open to all who care to contribute. Despite these and other differences, Anonymous and WikiLeaks still belong to the same family. This association is not only because Anonymous supported WikiLeaks by launching distributed denial-of- service attacks against PayPal and MasterCard after they terminated services for WikiLeaks in December 2010; more fundamentally, they are but two examples of a much broader set of political interventions orchestrated by geeks and hackers. Although these types of politics have grown in visibility in the previous two decades, commentators tend to lack an adequate terminology by which to grasp their source and their significance.
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