If there is a battle over the future shape of the internet – and society as a whole – then hacktivist groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec, Wikileaks and the file-sharing site Megaupload.com are among the frontline battalions.
While the individual incidents and clashes involving these groups may seem disparate and unconnected, those at the core of online activism say all these organisations, plus relatively mainstream movements such as Occupy and the Pirate Party, are linked.
John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the well-known advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), says the over-arching motivation of such efforts, whatever tactics are used, was to shift the nature of society.
“What unites these groups is the belief that the future is not about vertical, hierarchical government, but horizontal [peer-to-peer] government,” he said. “This pits the forces of the information age against those of the industrial age, as we move from scarcity of information to abundance. The last year has established our ability to have revolutions, but not to govern in their wake – but that’s coming.
“Different groups are on a spectrum. Organisations like the EFF would be on the conservative end. Along the way is WikiLeaks and the Pirate party, with Anonymous at the more radical end.”
Though ties between the groups are often tenuous, a broadly shared ideology of a libertarian distrust of government, belief in networks of free citizens, mistrust of copyright and intellectual property laws, and a drive for self-determination appear to unite the hacktivist fringe of the internet.
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