Civil disobedience gone digital

Social protest and activism are no longer just a mechanism of resistance found in the streets. Protesting has gone digital. It has developed since the Civil Rights Movement and the Chicano/a Movement where messages of resistance were expelled through the marches of thousands of people for a just cause.

Cyber-attacks on government and corporate websites are now elements of resistance and a threat to elite powers. Throughout history and today we see acts of social protest through non-violent civil disobedience as a means of seeking change.

We can refer to last year’s July 29 local civil disobedience where students and community members fastened themselves to Maricopa County’s Fourth Avenue Jail protesting immigration raids and anti-immigrant legislation. These activists disrupted the power dynamics of Fourth Avenue Jail, where sheriff’s buses had to temporarily shut down the transport of arrestees.

Digital, non-violent civil disobedience has emerged as a term known as “hackitivism” that proves the approach to social movements and political change is ever-developing. The word hackitivism has developed from various actions of website hacking that have been claimed by hackers to be politically motivated.

Last week, Aljazeera Magazine reported that a Palestinian group of hackers intruded on the Jewish People Policy Institute website and posted a photo of a Palestinian child near an Israeli tank.

This act is not merely a prank on the institute’s website. It is an act of digital civil disobedience to acknowledge the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

Several cyber-attacks by one hacker group have made international headlines the past several months. Aljazeera reported recently that a Tunisian member of the hackitivist group “Anonymous” announced that he and others will be hacking Egyptian government websites.

The cyber-attacks are motivated by inhumane conditions and the denial of the basic rights of freedom of speech of the people of Egypt. Hundreds of thousands have been rallying in Egypt to demand democracy from the standing government.

“By imposing censorship upon its own people and condemning those freedoms, the Egyptian government has revealed itself to be criminal, and has made itself an enemy of Anonymous,” said the hacker member to Aljazeera.

Anonymous’ threat to disrupt the normality of Egypt’s power dynamic for the concern of human rights and freedom of expression has declared them to be political activists in the strongest sense.

In November 2010, Anonymous conducted several cyber-attacks on the corporate giant MasterCard after the company pulled sponsorship from the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks. Anonymous vowed to take revenge on anyone organizing against Wikileaks. Since last November, Wikileaks has published over a quarter million confidential State Department cables that exposed the inner workings of U.S. foreign policy.

This cyber-movement’s tactic of barraging a website with thousands of hits so it temporarily shuts down by a simple computer download, displays the ease and effectiveness this civil disobedience can have.

Hacktivists should be starting to realize the power they can have in a social movement.

Though most movements are organized by the society that is marginalized and oppressed, hacktivists have the opportunity to acknowledge social issues and inequalities outside of that society and have a larger platform of strategy. We can see the similarities of political protest in the digital and real world.

As hacktivism continues to emerge let it continue to be a cause for the people and an additional voice in social movements.
Reach Justine at jrgarci8@asu.edu