Alternative Computing–When Hacking Meets Activism

A part of the assignment we have been given to work with during this course is to write a case study about what we find interesting within the theme of ”New Media Activism.” Being somewhat of a rebellious mind and interested in breaking boundaries and cracking social codes I’ve always found digital codes a fascinating enigma. I’ve hence decided to focus on the phenomenon that occurs when activism meets hacking and merge in to hactivism. The tools of new media have re-invented activism and terms like hactivism, electronic disobedience and the digital frontier are becoming important in the discourse surrounding the ongoing online debate about alternative computing. Hactivist are no longer fringe actors but often attack the digital heart of their opponents. But how do we as ComDev students understand hacktivism?

Well, you will have to return later to read my full essay to get the answer but I can tell you this.

In the words of Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport in their work Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age, hacktivism means “using hacking related techniques for political ends” (Earl and Kimport, 2011, p.225).  I my words, hacktivism is creative online political action and is an electronic way of intervening in politics. It is a direct way of disrupting power and hence a form of direct action. If, as I do, we believe what is written in Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles  that: “direct action is at the core of processes of social change” (Cammaerts & Carpentier, 2007, p.217)—then hacktivism can be interpreted as a core process for social change.

“Bahumbug” you might say. Actually, No! Not really. Here is why. Hacktivism or cyber activism in many cases seem to fight the digital capitalism and monopoly on information. Beyond talking over a site to promote a political idea, hacking is a way of attacking digital gatekeepers—those who withhold, re-write or censor information. By attacking and hindering these gatekeepers the goal is to liberate information and make it accessible to all. By doing so the attackers or hackers also challenge the already predetermined ideas of knowledge that is provided by the government or corporation and communicate their own ideas of knowledge. This means that alternative computing can be a way to reconstruct knowledge and just like Lievrouw describes that common knowledge projects do in Alternative and Activist New Media. Namely to: “reorganize and categorize information in ways that can challenge or reframe the established, expert knowledge classifications of mainstream cultural institutions and disciplines” (Lievrouw, 2011, p.20).

Challenging knowledge is a way of challenging power and perhaps hacktivism can be seen in the light of online anarchy and a way to fight “the dangers of the rise of an information elite exercising absolutist control over a communications system” (Atton, 2002, p.135). Something Chris Atton reflects upon in his book Alternative Media and something I argue could be the outcome if uncensored access to information is denied. In that sense I guess I to some extend can label myself as what Loving and Soenke call “techno determinists”  the in The Incommunicado Reader (2005, p.17). I do believe that the spread of technology equals a spread of development since it provide individuals with the possibility to tap in to the endless stream of communication and information. At the same time I do of course acknowledge the idea that “the effective value of information depends on the user’s ability to interpret it. A higher level of education is fundamental to maximize the potential offered by the Internet” (Loving and Soenke, 2005, p.47).


— Irina Bernebring Journiette

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