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The Incorporation of Technology in Activism Today

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Being an activist used to mean attending rallies, marching on various capitols, and throwing tea into harbors. This concept was forever changed by the digital revolution, introducing a new breed of activists: Hacktivists. A hacktivist is what the name suggest, and activist who uses computers instead of pushing in person. These groups, be it Anonymous, Lulzsec, Antisec, /i/ and a multitude of others, mainly seek to help people, sometimes even animals, to fight for rights and against oppression. The growing movement of Hackivism can be explained by the growing usage of computers. Less so do we have to worry about fights in the streets, but more do we have to worry about the near implosion of the Internet as groups numbering in the thousands lead cyber attacks. Hacktivism is a revolutionary idea that has made anyone with a wifi connection or ethernet cable a freedom fighter standing at the ready.

G-d hates fags. Soldiers died because G-d wanted them to. Death to all homosexuals. These are some of the common slogans of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas. Said slogans are made due to the ultra-religious ideals held by the church members. They picket soldiers funerals, indoctrinate children, and have been at near war with the group known mainly as ‘Anonymous’ for years. As the church became more and more well known, they drew more ire from the online community until it all came to a crashing halt. The church’s sites were all taken down through systems called DDoSing, LOIC, and HOIC by these Hacktivists. Essentially, they flood servers until they can’t function, effectively shutting down the websites. Westboro Baptists tried to lash out but every time they fell short, as seen when an interview held with a member of anonymous and a member of the church ended with the interviewer being told to check the church’s site, seeing it had been brought down during the interview (Packman). The conflict slowly died down, until one day when the church shocked the community with the abrupt announcement that they would picket the Sandy Hook victims’ funerals. Since then, Anonymous has vowed to wipe them off the map. This string of fights was one of the biggest, most public, and among the first real showings of the power of hacktivism. Real people were fighting from behind their keyboards and winning, stopping hate groups and the like. However, not every fight is this big. In fact there are many more hacktivists, just like activists, who work on a small scale; sending paypal money to a random person to pay their rent or feed their dogs (Anonymous).

In 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms ‘digital immigrant’ and ‘digital native’ which mean one who was born before the technological era and one born into said era, respectively (Prensky 4-5). Current grandparents marched for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, next generation saw the end of the cold war and battled racism and education cuts. The current era, digital native generation has had a whole new fight on their hands, spanning from cyber bullying to cyber warfare. “Just turn it off and ignore it” is a common response to cyber bullying; as if our social lives don’t thrive or possibly exist online. This digital conflict led people to resorting back to fighting, between groups as small as one on one to thousands against thousands, if not more.

So how do hacktivists help those who are being hurt where there’s a dearth of laws or people willing to help? Consider the Steubenville rape case, wherein two football players from the local high school took advantage of an inebriated girl, and local law enforcement did next to nothing, even with video proof of the event (CNN). When Anonymous found out about this, they spread the news nationally, until the injustice was widely known. By bringing this local story into the attention of the media, justice was eventually served. While the football players were convicted, the girl was nearly suicidal before Anonymous stepped in. She couldn’t just “turn it off” and get away, it was impossible to escape. Hacktivism is so important in this way; people who would otherwise be given no aid are put on the front page of everything with millions of people backing them. Without hacktivists, this girl would have at least been scarred for life with no retribution. Because of their involvement, the football players who raped her, as well as the dozen peers who filmed/photographed it, were brought to justice.

With the globalized world changing daily, it’s reassuring to have groups willing to fight on others behalf. Yet could this mean, ultimately, the end of real-life activists? When there are people who can shut down government sites with a few clicks and make petitions that gain millions of signatures in hours, a physical march or paper petition may lose its luster. Although in other countries there are still riots and revolutions, the most America has had as of late is the Occupy movement, which had its roots, based online with hacktivists. Our brains are being rewired to fit a cybernetic society that relies heavily upon the internet. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan talk about a study done which shows how brains have extreme plasticity when adjusting to the digital world, that digital natives may be able to seemingly convert digital immigrants to be progressively more savvy and in turn making hacktivists from the activists of yesterday (Small and Vorgan). Thus it would seem that hacktivism would catch on. No long would it be a movement that is based across the country; one could support it from their wheelie-chair. Even during the riots in Egypt and Syria, people from other nations fought to maintain contact and support those in strife, and did so from their own homes.

So while in-person activism may not fully die out it will continue to be based online more, with Hacktivism in its stead. Society may begin to gather in chat rooms and online gatherings for change now. The new activists may teach the old the next generation of protest and support, forever changing how people voice their ideas. A new world where oppressors will be met by resistance at every turn and standing up for what you believe in could only take a few clicks. It is almost comforting knowing that there’s a type of unseen army ready to stand up for others worldwide, especially when they have the access to the world wide web for their backing. An anonymous army can also be unsettling; thousands of people ready to spring to a cause at a moments notice could be unnerving. Yet as shown in groups such as Lulzsec there is a hierarchy so they aren’t Robin-Hood-type Internet marauders. Hacktivists, like activists, tend to sway from the extremes and keep each other in line.

Our world is shifting to a new paradigm; the hacktivists idea is growing exponentially. Be it stopping hate groups in their tracks or protecting and coming to the rescue of those in need, hacktivists are for the most part a caring group that is changing advocacy and protest on a large scale. Demonstrations may even turn from picket signs to pop-up ads in the near futures.


  1. Prensky Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immagrants” The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. Ed. Mark Bauerlein. New York: Penguin, 2011. 3-11. Prints.
  2. Small, Gary; Vorgan, Gigi. “Digital Natives, Digital Immagrants” The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. Ed. Mark Bauerlein. New York: Penguin, 2011. 76-96. Print.

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