We recently had an excellent two-part podcast discussion (Part I, Part II) with professor Gabriella Coleman, all about Anonymous, its “many faces,” and how it shifted from just being about the “lulz” into real political activism. Of course, it covered the many contradictions of Anonymous — including the idea that anyone can just declare themselves a “member” and take on whatever they want, meaning that sometimes Anonymous’ actions are self-contradictory. One faction may decide to do one thing, while another faction may disagree with it entirely. And that’s all perfectly reasonable under the banner of Anonymous. You can see that in the recent effort by Anonymous to take on ISIS with #OpISIS. Over the past few years, Anonymous certainly got plenty of attention for jumping into some fights in the Middle East, gaining plenty of attention for its attempts to aid protesters in Tunisia, which kicked off the Arab Spring.
Even so, the strategies of #OpISIS are a bit baffling, and certainly seem to go against Anonymous’ general stance in other situations. Last week, it put out a list of hosting/infrastructure companies that it claimed was hosting pro-ISIS content, with the aim of demanding such sites takedown that content. One of the main targets: CloudFlare, a company that many websites (including Techdirt) use to protect against denial-of-service attacks and to generally improve reliability. CloudFlare has responded by pointing out the obvious: it makes decisions to stop serving websites based on court orders, not mob rule:
CloudFlare does not itself host the content of the websites, meaning blocking its service would not actually make the content go away. The service instead protects sites from malicious traffic and cyber threats, meaning without it websites would be more vulnerable to attacks from Anonymous.
“We’re the plumbers of the internet,” [CloudFlare founder & CEO Matthew] Prince said. “We make the pipes work but it’s not right for us to inspect what is or isn’t going through the pipes. If companies like ours or ISPs (internet service providers) start censoring there would be an uproar. It would lead us down a path of internet censors and controls akin to a country like China.”
CloudFlare has previously faced criticism for protecting websites associated with Anonymous, however Prince asserts that their service is only removed if told to do so by a court of law.
“The irony is there is no organisation that we have had more requests to terminate services for than the hacking group Anonymous, including from government officials – which we have not done without following the proper legal process,” Prince said.
In other words, careful where you aim that gun, #OpISIS, because it might point back at you as well. It seems even more ironic when you realize that one of the earliest “high profile” campaigns by Anonymous was when it targeted companies like Paypal and Amazon after each made the decision to cut off Wikileaks. Thus, Operation Payback began, targeting those who chose to arbitrarily cut off Wikileaks, without waiting for any sort of official legal process.
So it seems rather bizarre and counterproductive for this particular segment of Anonymous to now be pushing for the same thing: companies to arbitrarily cut off other content, while in the past it has argued that infrastructure providers should not bow down to the opinions of a few without a legal basis. It’s fascinating that Anonymous is targeting ISIS, showing just how bizarre this world has become, but doing so by trying to pressure companies into voluntary censorship campaigns seems really counterproductive and completely contrary to the message that Anonymous has presented to the world in the past.