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Anonymous: The Masked Vigilante

The “hacker collective”, Anonymous, is known for promoting free speech and individual’s rights. Despite this reputation, their specific targets call into question their actual motives and protection of First Amendment rights.

Photo from Mirror (UK news website).

Anonymous strikes again!  The prominent “hacker collective” that is well deserving of its “virtual masked vigilante” title has acquired a new target.  Political candidate Donald Trump is now feeling the heat of the group with their determination to “fight facism.”

Anonymous typically aims at targets that threaten individual’s rights around the world. 

Anonymous typically aims at targets that threaten individual’s rights around the world.  For instance, police shut down cell service in underground trains and platforms to stop a protest from organizing in response to a shooting of an unarmed man by BART police in 2011. Anonymous responded by hacking BART’s website and releasing contact information for at least 2,400 of the users on the site.  Their reasoning was that the police were censoring communication and restricting the ability for citizens to peaceably assemble, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.

More recently, a related affiliate with Anonymous called Ghost Sec focused on taking down any website that supports the ISIS group.  The group focused on stopping ISIS propaganda and giving a personal message for ISIS to “calm down.”  These hack attacks are typically in the public interest which has given Anonymous, and their affiliates, a sort of “cyber batman” vigilante status.

The group claims to have no central leadership and that it acts as a collective.  Most attacks are formed based on internet relay chat aliases.  The collective has now turned its sights on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, because of his statements about banning Muslims from entering the United States.

The group may have a good motive for attacking these groups, but their attacks are not consistent. 

The motivations behind the different attacks however, contradict themselves.  The group attacked Pay Pal for suspending WikiLeaks accounts.  The accounts were suspended because WikiLeaks released a large amount of classified material.  The group attacked the KKK, and Westboro Baptist Church for being groups that spread the message of hate and in the case of the attack on Donald Trump, his endorsement of xenophobia.  While the ideas behind the attacks may be noble, one was to support the ability for free speech and the release of information, while the other was an attack on the use of a radical view of free speech.

The group may have a good motive for attacking these groups, but their attacks are not consistent.  If this group is to fight against the censorship of information, it is ironic for them to attack groups that wish to promote their beliefs on inequality.  Or even to attack an individual’s expressed wish to build a wall along the United States border and refuse to let outsiders in.  The freedom of speech in the United States is one that is highly regarded by freedom fighters.  This freedom is given to those wishing to promote good things and bad.  Our freedom of speech clause does not have a content specific limitation.

The problem that Anonymous has faced, ironically, is a lack of an identity.  Since anyone could attack and claim to be part of the group, their message can be skewed or effectively altered by those who may believe that they are forwarding the message.  The group that attacked Pay Pal and the BART website may not be the same individuals who attacked the KKK and Westboro Baptist church websites.  The group lacks definition and an official statement page.  Since the group is a “ghost” that does not wish to be tracked or identified, they have no ability to steer the organization in the direction that they wish to go.

Anonymous instead would stand for whatever justice that the participants deem to be necessary. 

Hackers have the freedom to act on behalf to their beliefs, regardless of what they may be.  Anyone can be anonymous.  Anyone can stand against the evils of society.  The group has been defined as standing for human rights and justice.  By others, the group is deemed to “promote free speech, unimpeded access to information, and transparency in government and corporate activities.”  Most recently, the group stands against what they believe is fascist leadership.

The only way to link up the attacks on the KKK, Donald Trump, BART, Pay Pal, and ISIS would be to conclude that Anonymous does not stand for individual rights.  Anonymous instead would stand for whatever justice that the participants deem to be necessary.  Similar to the protest at Missouri University last year, their goal is noble, however the way of solving the problem is in itself defeating.  A group cannot call for standing up for human rights and equality if only the accepted view can speak.

In Missouri, students attempting to end racial hate speech at their school called for the language to be banned.  They resisted media reporters and told individuals that they did not have the right to videotape or take pictures of them.  Their anti-free speech shook First Amendment activists across the country.  Similar to their situation, Anonymous is acting in support of, but against, free speech.

Regardless if the message is xenophobia, racial inequality, total equality, or rights for robots, the First Amendment does not weigh each interest with the support of society.  The different beliefs within society are protected because the only way to cure hate speech is more speech.

When Anonymous attacks a political candidate for proliferating his views, they become the enemy that they swore to fight; they have become a force of intimidation to quell free speech. 

If the United States population supports a presidential candidate that wishes to stop Muslim individuals from entering the country due to xenophobia, then it is for no branch of the government or vigilante hacktivist legion to restrict.  If this was a limitation that we would accept, there may be no difference the United States and countries that restrict individuals from supporting candidates who believe in equality.  Censorship is two sided.  Both good and bad ideas come forth with speech.  When Anonymous attacks a political candidate for proliferating his views, they become the enemy that they swore to fight; they have become a force of intimidation to quell free speech.

Where many Anonymous activists may not agree with the ban on Muslims, the ability to promote this belief is one that is protected under the First Amendment just like the ability for citizens to peaceably assemble.  If the BART police cannot censor this unalienable right to protect the community from the destruction from the rioting, then Anonymous cannot censor the unalienable right of speech.  We all must remember that even messages of hate and inequality are protected by the Constitution.  It is up to our society to choose what to listen to.

Democracy has not always proven to come up with the best solutions to problems.  From Athens to the United States, the democratic system has, from time to time, failed to provide justice.  However, the democratic republic in this country is  self-correcting.  If this candidate does not perform, a new candidate will take command and a new administration will correct the blunders of the past.  Unlawful cyber attacks on a candidate however, only radicalize the situation and create an uncivilized race for the presidency.

Cyrus Corbett, Associate Editor
About Cyrus Corbett, Associate Editor (16 Articles)
Cyrus Corbett is a third year law student and an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. He is from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina and received his Bachelors in Arts in Government from Wofford College in 2014. Since July after his first year of law school, Cyrus has interned at the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in downtown Raleigh focusing on the Retail Merchants Handbook. His interest is in jurisprudence of the law and negotiation/ mediation.
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