Thursday, December 23, 2010

Caught in the cyber war (by Suzie)

Last week, I became a casualty in the cyber war over Julian Assange. My injury wasn’t too bad. I had to spend time and money to upgrade my computer and change my passwords. But what about someone with fewer resources?

Two others tell their stories here and here. For me, it started with messages from Gawker, LinkedIn and Amazon that I needed to change my passwords. The one from Gawker confused me – I’ve never commented there. I forgot that io9 was part of Gawker Media. “Gnosis” claimed credit for the attack; the Guardian blames Anonymous:
They were described as a leaderless, anarchic group of "hacktivists" who briefly brought down MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after those companies cut off financial services to WikiLeaks.
But inside Anonymous, the Guardian has found that the organisation is more hierarchical – with a hidden cabal of around a dozen highly skilled hackers co-ordinating attacks across the web.
The secretive group that directs the Anonymous network was also behind the assault on the Gawker websites in the US at the weekend, according to documents seen by the Guardian. That led to email addresses and passwords of more than 1.3 million Gawker users being made public, and spawned a spam attack on Twitter that is now being investigated by the FBI.
I don't know if any of the anonymous people who protest in person are Anonymous, but I do have a tip: When someone is accused of rape, don’t take the Spartacus route. For some of us, it's not comforting to see groups of men wearing masks and holding signs saying, “I Am Assange.”

Descriptions of Anonymous often mention its attack on Scientology. Wikipedia mentions many other actions, but not the one on feminist bloggers. I found that in the Anonymous-related Encyclopedia Dramatica, which recently changed. I don’t want to go back; I fear the Land of Trolls.

The term “troll” gets used too loosely. Some people are sincerely ignorant or infuriating, i.e., they believe what they’re saying. Wired gives a better definition, in connection with Anonymous:
To troll is to post deliberately incendiary content to a discussion forum or other online community—say, kitten-torture fantasies on a message board for cat lovers—for no other reason than to stir up chaos and outrage. Trolling is (for the troll, at least) a source of amusement. But for Anonymous it has long been more like a way of life. Study the pages of the Encyclopedia Dramatica wiki, where the vast parallel universe of Anonymous in-jokes, catchphrases, and obsessions is lovingly annotated, and you will discover an elaborate trolling culture: Flamingly racist and misogynist content lurks throughout, all of it calculated to offend, along with links to eye-gougingly horrific images of mutilation, sexual perversity, and, yes, kittens in blenders. Here, too, are chronicled the many troll invasions, or "raids," that Anonymous has inflicted on unsuspecting Web communities—like the Epilepsy Foundation's online forums, which were attacked with flashing, seizure-inducing animations.
For more information on Anonymous attacks on feminists, see Bitch or Feministe. In a previous post on Assange (12/12), I mentioned that we have a ton of information in the digital age, but we often lack ways to make sense of it. In this case, if someone new to the subject was curious about Anonymous and feminism, searching “anonymous” and “feminism” would hardly help. I found the information easily only because I subscribed to Bitch at the time.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the media to mention the attacks on feminists when they discuss the hackers who have published the names, addresses, phone numbers, photos, etc., of the Swedish women who complained about Assange, and who temporarily shut down the sites of the women’s lawyer and the Swedish Prosecution Authority? Like the attacks on MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Amazon, people who have nothing to do with this fight get inconvenienced, possibly even hurt.

The new WikiLeaks spokesman said: "We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks.” But Assange had poured fuel on the fire, calling Visa, MasterCard and PayPal "instruments of U.S. foreign policy." What he didn't mention was that PayPal had temporarily suspended donations to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2008, at least once for failing to comply with European laws on money laundering.

In the "irony of the year," he and his lawyers are calling for an investigation of whoever leaked the documents in the sex case to the Guardian. Supporters also have accused the Guardian, the recipient of leaked cables, for betraying Assange by posting the Swedish police documents. Journalists are supposed to protect confidential sources from disclosure. But Assange isn't a confidential source, nor does the Guardian have any responsibility to protect him from allegations of rape.

Jeremy Sapienza at AntiWar would make me vomit if I didn't have Zofran in the house. He writes:
Assange is not now, in any way, hoist by his own petard ... WikiLeaks exists to expose the misdeeds of those in power, the nearly invincible elites.
As a counterpoint, read Jaron Lanier's "The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy," which is the best analysis that I've seen so far on WikiLeaks.
I actually take seriously the idea that the Internet can make non-traditional techie actors powerful. Therefore, I am less sympathetic to hackers when they use their newfound power arrogantly and non-constructively. ... How can you tell when you are the underdog versus when you are powerful? When you get that perception wrong, you can behave quite badly quite easily.
People who say they hate controls on the Internet, or on the release of information, may mean they don’t want any restrictions on themselves. But they may want restrictions on others, or they may use their skills to silence others. From Birgitta Jonsdottir, the member of the Iceland parliament who left WikiLeaks:
Julian is incredibly like-able, incredibly enjoyable to be with – if you are agreeing with him. If you criticise him, he is very abusive. He has a very high IQ but very low EQ [emotional intelligence].
Gawker released emails he allegedly wrote to a 19-year-old woman when he was 33. If true, and no one has denied them, he got her phone number, car make and license plate number, creeping her out. He pursued her, even when she had the subject line “don’t call me.” He ended up telling her that she was cold and self-absorbed.

Some may think I'm gossiping, but his attitude toward and treatment of women matter in the running of WikiLeaks, just as it does for any boss. In his old OKCupid dating profile, he says he's working on a male-dominated project. Does WikiLeaks need more women, not just to care for Assange, but to voice their perspectives? Maybe the Swedish women were exceptions, but if he regularly has sex with supporters and colleagues, do they wonder if he had any interest in their ideas? Do other women wonder if that's what they need to do to get his attention? Do men wonder if a woman is allowed more access because she's sleeping with him, or do they assume that's how other women have gained access? These are the questions that arise when a boss has sex with underlings. Here's an email on Cryptome from Assange in 2006:
It seems like everyone I meet plans to follow the young Che Guavara, and take off on their motorbike and adventure through the poverty and pleasurs of South and Central American, now that seduction of random latinos has been politically sanctified -- and who can blame them?
Last year I rode my motorcycle from Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) to Hanoi, up the highway that borders the South China Sea.
More from the OKCupid profile:
I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil. Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane. OK. Not only women!

Although I am pretty intellectually and physically pugnacious I am very protective of women and children.
Perhaps that's a reference to the decade he spent fighting the mother of his son for full custody. He has described her as "emotionally disturbed," and her subsequent boyfriend as abusive. I've never seen her side anywhere, but then again, she left while he was hacking into corporate and government sites, including the Pentagon. If I were her, I wouldn't want a public fight with him.

The former couple reached a private agreement, letting the mother have continued responsibility for raising their son. Although supportive, Daniel Assange, 20, hasn't "been in contact with his father for a number of years." So, what was the point of the custody fight? Writing about his father in general, Daniel tweeted in 2006: "I think he just has a tendency to follow the path of highest resistance, simply for the sake of defiance."

A custody agreement for Daniel was reached when he was about the same age as Julian when Assange's parents divorced. Julian Assange has described his mother's next partner as “a manipulative and violent psychopath.” She had a son by him, and there was a custody fight. So, she took her two boys on the run for at least five years.

Assange likes a fight? OK, but don't pretend you're protecting me and others.
P.S. Thanks to Sarah Posner for quoting me in "How Julian Assange Is Like A Televangelist."