I have spent a good amount of time today conducting some research on “Operation Payback,” (sometimes also called “Operation Avenge Assange”) and pondering whether or not it represents a tactical toolbox that is appropriate as a response to the recent trend of government and corporate entities attempting to cut off support (financial and otherwise) from wikileaks.
(If you aren’t familiar with the background of this story, here’s some background.)
First, of course, I wanted to be on the “inside” of the story and really see the play-by-play of what was happening. I tried to go to the publicly announced planning center, a chat room on irc.anonops.net. Unfortunately, this domain name had also been the target of the volley of attacks that was transpiring. However, a nice gentlemen in the #wikileaks channel of irc.freenode.net directed me to the server by IP address: 18.104.22.168. Do have a visit with your IRC client if you are interested.
Upon arrival, I was prompted to check out #operationpayback, the central meeting spot for these hacktivists. Once in the channel, I was astounded at the pace of the conversation – about 5-7 comments EVERY SECOND.
Most were updates on the state of the LOIC (Low-Orbit Ion Cannon), the tool of choice for taking mastercard.com down from the Internet (LOIC is, or at least was, a fairly mainstream tool for testing server defenses). The tone was absolutely jovial – mastercard.com was down, and the mainstream media regarded the events of this chatroom as headline-worthy.
Yet, I did not get a sense of constructive, radical civic duty. In fact it seemed to me that the average age (judging by comment maturity and grammer) was probably about 14.
I do understand how a person of a different bent might derive a bit of glee from the spectacle of the denial of service attack being coordinated. I, however, noticed a very different sentiment unfold in my gut:
Mere destruction of existing power structures, without contemporaneous (or, for that matter, preceding) construction of alternatives is unlikely to ever result in sustainable positive change.
May I suggest to all the people who are distressed about Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, and whomever else abandoning Wikileaks that their mission needs to be to build peaceful, sustainable alternatives to Amazon, Visa, and Mastercard?
May I further suggest that this is the only truly radical use of information technology? Destruction has been possible (and in fact normative) since the beginning of time. Only now, however, is parallel construction possible.
Stop the temper tantrum. Stop the blame game. Instead, just work toward an information age where the the quasi-censorship that has characterized the industrial age is mathematically precluded at the infrastructural level. I suspect that thanks for this work will come not only from Wikileaks (and all those who are spiritually motivated by its basic premises) but in fact also from governments and corporations too. Everybody has an interest in the tech infrastructure working more efficiently and smoothly, and this will naturally translate to lower costs and increased availability in disadvantaged communities.
Make no mistake: I’m not happy about the treatment wikileaks is getting. But is this really the best that we can come up with as a response? Have we really run out of civil, ethical, and constructive ways to deal with these kinds of issues? If so, doesn’t that make us as bad as “them?”