Something rather interesting is happening on the Internet these days. For lack of a better term I’ll call it “Internet vigilantism.” It is, perhaps, a sign of the times and a result of the increasing political and social divisions in our country and in the world. Since I’m writing about a web phenomenon, I’ll refer to the definition of vigilante given in Wikipedia:
“Vigilante justice” is sometimes spurred on by the perception that criminal punishment is either nonexistent or insufficient for the crime. Those who believe this see their governments as ineffective in enforcing the law; thus, such individuals fulfill the like-minded wishes of the community…
Persons seen as “escaping from the law” or “above the law” are sometimes the targets of vigilantism.(It may target persons or organizations involved in illegal activities in general or it may be aimed against a specific group or type of activity…)
Increasingly, Americans across the political spectrum view their opponents as operating “above the law” and feel the need to take actions which they believe the government has not or will not take. One such group, called simply “Anonymous” has been active in recent months in attacking conservative groups and corporations whom they believe are acting improperly.
In February, Anonymous launched a web-based attack against the website belonging to the group Americans for Prosperity, a group which has been associated with the Koch brothers and Koch Industries. The attack was launched in response to what the group felt was unacceptable political activities by the conservative group. Soon after, another web-based attack was launched against the website of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka church affiliated with the infamous Phelps clan, which has most recently defiled a number of funerals for American military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq. While attributed by some sources to Anonymous, that group has denied the accusation.
The examples given above are only two of the many web attacks which have brought down websites on the Internet over the past several months. Such attacks are not new, of course. For years hackers have mounted what are known as “denial of service” attacks, which overload websites and cause them to crash, but it seems to me, at least, that the current attacks are more organized and more focused than they have been in the past.
In my opinion, no matter how much one might disagree with the political activities of individuals, corporations, or political action groups, using the Internet as a forum for launching retaliatory actions is a very dangerous thing. Vigilantism has never been a good way of achieving justice. Further, vigilantism has a habit of often targeting the wrong folks.
All of us, regardless of political, religious, or moral persuasion depend on the Internet for multiple uses. If the Internet is to become the next battleground then it will become totally unusable. If this happens all of us will suffer.