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Hacktivism in Mass Media Research Paper



The development of information technologies gave rise to a new form of protest, called hacktivism. Overall, this term can be described as a non-violent use of digital tools in order to promote certain political ends or express disagreement with the policies of the government or governments (Hampson 514). It can take such forms as website defacement, denial-of-service attacks or publication of confidential information (Hampson 514).

Nevertheless, this term is often confused with cyber-terrorism or hacking. This paper is aimed at discussing the role of hacktivism for contemporary mass media such as newspapers, television, Internet, radio and so forth. In particular, it is necessary to discuss the way in hacktivists are described in these media and how their actions are evaluated.

Moreover, it is important to understand why hacktivism attracts so much attention of mass media. Overall, one can say that this form of protest is so often discussed because it demonstrates that online communities can affect even the most powerful and efficient organizations or businesses. Moreover, this activity cannot easily be monitored or prohibited.

Mass media can create conflicting portrayals of hacktivists; they can be depicted as cyber-terrorists or as courageous people who want to voice their discontent. These are the main questions that should be discussed in this paper.

The development of hacktivism as a social and political phenomenon

It should be mentioned that hacktivism has many years of history, for instance, one can refer to the attack against the NASA when this organization intended to launch probes with nuclear reactors (Jordan 120). This event took place in 1988, and since that time, hacktivism has evolved into organized civil disobedience and sometimes organized crime.

Overall, it is possible to argue that mass media pays close attention to hacktivism because in most cases, it is related to a variety of controversial issues such as the protection of copyright property, freedom of speech, the rights of LGBT communities, and so forth. These questions are debated by politicians, journalists or writers, and they can be of great interest to the audience.

Thus, hacktivism can have far-reaching implications for the community. More importantly, the attacks carried out by hacktivist groups like Anonymous affected very important organizations such as the US Department of Justice or even FBI (Jordan 120). Moreover, people, who are involved in these incidents, can live in different cities, states, or regions.

Such forms of civil disobedience were not present before, and it is quite understandable that journalists take interest in it. This one of the reasons these events were reported on television, radio, newspapers, and Internet. Most importantly, these cases demonstrate the power of online community that can shape the policies of the state.

The descriptions of hacktivism offered in different media

On the whole, one can say that various mass media have described hacktivists in different ways. For example, Fox 11 News described these people as “hackers on steroids” (Whitehead and Wesch 122). In this case, journalist emphasized the idea that hacktivism involved the theft of confidential information. Such a description is based misunderstanding of the term hacktivism.

The thing is that it does not necessarily involve the theft of information. Moreover, in many cases, hackers derive personal gain from using the data of private or public organizations.

However, one cannot say the same thing about hacktivists who normally want to raise people’s awareness about certain issues like violation of human rights. They also want to influence the decisions of governmental agencies. Thus, the attitudes of journalists can often be biased or at least based on the misunderstanding of the term hacktivism.

Sometimes, they can be described as pranksters who use information technologies in an irresponsible way (Sengupta 4). They are described as people who can steel confidential data, deface websites, and break into the databases of law enforcement agencies (Sengupta 4). So, this behavior can be compared to misdemeanor or deviance.

Nevertheless, mass media, especially television and newspapers do not focus on the causes that hacktivists can advocate. For instance, they can object to the adoption of such legislative acts Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Judging from the accounts offered by television or print media, one can say that hacktivism is a form of deviance.

Very often, their actions can create problems for other people, and they can lead to financial losses for organizations. For example, one can mention DoS attacks on the websites of VISA and Mastercard lead to financial losses for these companies (Reynolds 100). However, one should not forget about political motives underlying these actions. Without addressing these issues, it is difficult to understand these actions.

Apart from that, television, radio and print media regard hacktivism as a means of cyber warfare. It is believed that such techniques as DoS attacks, website defacements or virtual sit-ins can be applied during a possible

military conflict (Hampson 516). Moreover, such practices are often associated with cyber terrorism (Hampson 516). So, this concept is often discussed from the perspective of international relations. Thus, very often, journalists give a negative assessment of DoS attacks, the defacement of websites or unauthorized use of information. So, this is one of the ways of looking at this phenomenon.

However, this is not the only portrayal that mass media provide. For instance, people, who participate in online communities, view hacktivism as a form of civil disobedience. In their opinion, it is supposed to change the policies of the government or at least make sure that legislators know about the problems society faces (Nayar 352). For Internet users, such actions are quite legitimate or at least justified from an ethical point of view.

For example, one can mention foreign policy, the practices of law enforcement agencies, the activities of separate politicians, and so forth. For instance, one can mention such a project as WikiLeaks that enables readers to learn about the classified documents of governmental agencies.

Moreover, it is possible to mention DoS attacks on the websites of the Chinese government in effort to stop the prosecution of journalists or human rights advocates (Nayar 325). So, in this way, online communities can express their disagreement with the government. Therefore, it is possible to say that Internet enables people to take a different look at hacktivism. In most cases, it is portrayed as a political protest or disobedience.

It should be noted that Internet users believe that information technologies can serve political or social purposes, for instance, in order to increase public awareness about a certain social or political problem.

This is why they do not perceive hacktivism as a form of crime or misdemeanor. This is one of the main distinctions that people should bear in mind when speaking about this phenomenon. Thus, this comparison shows that hacktivism can be seen as crime or civic disobedience in mass media.

The aspects of hacktivism that are not closely discussed in mass media

Nevertheless, there is certain aspects of this phenomenon that are not often discussed in mass media. The thing is that it is often associated with political protest or hooliganism. However, television, online communities, or newspapers do not mention that hacktivism is also a way of influencing private companies, especially if these organizations do not take into account the interests of stakeholders or act in an unethical way (Reynolds 100).

For example, the websites of such companies as VISA and Mastercard were attacked by hacktivists because these corporations attempted to stop the payments to Wikileaks (Reynolds 100). Thus, in this way, people can shape the policies of businesses.

Certainly, these people are not always right in assuming that governments or companies violate ethical principles. However, hacktivists are firmly convinced in their belief that their actions can be justified from moral and legal standpoints. This is one of the main points that should be kept in mind.

Additionally, it should be mentioned that in most cases, they adhere to certain ethical standards. As it has been said before, they do not attempt to steel information and use it for commercial purposes (Himma 64). This is the main thing that distinguishes hackers and hacktivists. Secondly, their actions are not motivated by mere desire to demonstrate ones’ programming skills.

This is not the goal that they want to attain. Moreover, the activities of these people are not supposed to damage the property of governmental or private organizations because such behavior can certainly be compared to crime. These distinctions are not closely discussed in mass media.

Yet, these issues should be taken into by people who try to understand hacktivism, the motives driving these people and the techniques that they use. Certainly, the morality of such actions can be questioned because DoS attacks of virtual sit-ins prevent governmental organizations from working effectively.

Moreover, they can affect other people who just want to access the websites of agencies like the Department of Justice. However, different forms of public protest inevitable create inconveniences for other people. Therefore, people should carefully examine ethical aspects of hacktivism in order to evaluate this activity.


These examples indicate that mass media have a very complex attitude toward the activities of hacktivists. First of all, they can be regarded as hackers, pranksters, or even cyber-terrorists who can promote certain political agenda by using computers in an illegal way.

However, at the same time, the actions of this people can be described as political protest or civil disobedience that is aimed at changing the policies or preventing the adoption of some legal acts. The descriptions provided by television, Internet, radio, or print media can illustrate various aspects of hacktivism.

Such behavior should not be idealized as it is often done in online communities. However, hacktivism should not be reduced only to hacking, cyber-terrorism, or practical jokes.

It is often aimed at advocating social or political causes and these problems can be relevant to many people. Hacktivism will continue to attract the attention of mass media because such events demonstrate the importance of online communities for shaping public policies.

Works Cited

Hampson, Noah. “Hacktivism: A New Breed Of Protest In A Networked World.” Boston College International & Comparative Law Review 35.2 (2012): 511-542. Print.

Himma, Kenneth. Internet Security: Hacking, Counterhacking, And Society, Boston: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007. Print.

Jordan, Team. Activism! Direct Action, Hactivism and the Future of Society, New York: Reaktion Books, 2002. Print.

Nayar, Pramod. The New Media and Cybercultures Anthology, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.

Reynolds, George. Ethics in Information Technology, New York: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Sengupta, Somini. “The Soul of the New Hacktivist”. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2012. 4. Print.

Whitehead, Neil, and M. Wesch. (2012). Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology, Washington: O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2012. Print.

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