Groups Online: Hacktivism and Social Protest

Groups Online: Hacktivism and Social Protest

Helen Thackray (Bournemouth University, UK) and John McAlaney (Bournemouth University, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4053-3.ch011
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This chapter provides a brief introduction to hacktivism and social protest online and highlights some of the socio-psychological and cognitive factors that can lead to individuals taking part in hacktivism groups. Hacktivism is an ill-defined area which some claim as a legitimate form of protest in the online world and others regard as illegal hacking; there is truth to both arguments, and those who believe it should be protected will continue to work for it to be recognised. The chapter explains how the depth of social ties and influence are still being examined, and whilst cognitive biases are recognised, strategies to mitigate and combat the vulnerability they present are still being developed.
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It is important to remember that cybersecurity incidents occur within a social context; even if it is not face to face, online interactions fulfil and rely on the same social or task needs as offline interaction with others (McKenna & Green, 2002). There remains, however, a lack of insight into the influence of psychological factors and social norms online, especially in the case of hacktivism. All actors within cybersecurity incidents interact with each other and within each group. Whilst hacktivism is regarded as a contested area, stuck between definitions of justified civil action and illegal hacking, there remains a strong need to challenge the stereotypes around it. The conflation of the terms “hacker” and “hacktivist”, with “cybercriminal” and “cyberterrorist” adds to the confusion surrounding the different typologies identified (see Table 1). A divisive and complex issue, there are many governments and businesses see hacktivism as a threat, akin to cyber-terrorism and cybercrime (Drucker & Gumpert, 2000, Kubitschko, 2015, Manion & Goodrum, 2000, Shaw, 2006); others argue that social protest and change have always been a part of society (Scheuerman, 2016, Schrock, 2016), and that hacktivism is the progression of social protest (Kubitschko, 2015, Postill, 2014, Solomon, 2017).

Hacktivism is not a 21st century addition to the internet. The origins lie in computer based activism as early as the mid-1980s (Wray, 1998). One of the first known instances of a DDoS attack occurred in 1995, when a group of Italian artists blocked websites of the French government, in protest of the decision to undertake a series of nuclear tests (Milan & Atton, 2015). Hacktivism was not, however, a well-known phenomenon until the mid to late 2000s. One of the more predominant groups, Anonymous, began to use media attention as part of their strategy; previously activist groups had preferred to remain undetected in order to protect their projects from law enforcement (Milan & Atton, 2015). As such Anonymous is probably the most widely known hacktivist group by the general population.

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