The internet has given us many things. It has given us a new space for research, a new space for communication, a new space for procrastination and increasingly it has also provided us with a new space to wage war. Here are some updates from the Front.
Battle I: Anonymous vs. the CCP
So, internet freedom and ‘lulz’ hacktivists Anonymous have decided to finally take on the Chinese censorship behemoth. They have defaced several websites of governments and businesses. Furthermore they have used the sites to prominently advertise the many ways in which one can (to an extent) slip past the great firewall of China. Two things are noticeable about this:
Firstly, this was a confrontation which had to happen at some point. When it comes to internet censorship, no one is more adept at it than China. Anonymous at one point simply had to prove that it could take on the Cyber-Dragon. The choice of timing (right after the Bo Xilai disaster) was excellent and will probably provide the party with a few more headaches.
Secondly, the Dragon will undoubtedly win this battle. The thing is that, the way I understand it, the Chinese censorship system is not necessarily meant to be completely unbeatable. The CCP knows very well that complete Orwellian thought control is not within the realms of the currently achievable. Rather the point of the Censorship regime is to maintain a stranglehold over the main communication channels such as the Chinese twitter Weibo, in order not to prevent people from dissenting but to prevent them from spreading their dissent. In that sense telling people that censorship exists (which most people probably know anyways) and informing them of how to work around it (which a lot know as well) is not an effective way of beating the system, because people still cannot use social media to mobilize. So, while a nuisance, the CCP will survive this unscathed (and may even use the opportunity to close some holes in the Great firewall).
Battle II: The Pentagon (allegedly) vs. the Free Press
Two journalists from USA Today dared to write a story which strongly criticizes the inefficiency of the Pentagon’s “information operations” in Afghanistan (essentially attempts to “win the hearts and minds”). And the Empire decided to strike back by mounting an information campaign against the journalists, complete with fake websites, twitter accounts and Wikipedia entries. Of course this was so glaringly obvious that it underscored the inefficiency of these kinds of activities, rather than obscuring it. Indeed, the whole thing was so poorly executed that some are wondering whether it really was the Pentagon in the first place, instead suspecting a disgruntled military subcontractor. Either way, the free press survived this attack pretty much unscathed, which is good news for once.
Battle III: The Big Wild Western Civil War
With SOPA and PIPA defeated, the internet community is now roaring about ACTA and CISPA, which seem to be new attempts to do similar things. Much has already been said about this battle and I have little to add to the debate. The only thing which continuously amazes me is the internet community’s undying faith into the idea that it could actually maintain a free internet and the associated surprise when someone tries to take this freedom away. Don’t get me wrong, I have pretty pronounced libertarian strains and love the free internet like anyone. But what did you expect? Did you really think the law, which has encroached every other area, will leave the internet untouched forever? Did you really think you can download millions of gigabytes of music, films, games and classified government documents from sites with names like Piratebay or Wikileaks, without eliciting any kind of response? Of course governments are trying to regulate the internet. They would be stupid if they wouldn’t.
We all love Western movies. We all love the freedom associated with the Wild West. But it is an illusion to think that it can be maintained. At one point the Cavalry and the Rangers move in and ‘restore order’. They have now arrived. It will of course take some time until ‘order’ is established. But, unless the governments of the world run out of stupid acronyms, it is an inevitable outcome.