Generation W: WikiLeaks Ignites a New Generation of Hacktivists

by Urizenus Sklar on 05/01/11 at 1:35 pm

While the traditional media and the United States government continue to fixate on the individual Julian Assange, a not so subtle cultural shift is taking root worldwide: Hacktivist culture is rapidly morphing from a small underground subculture into mainstream culture for a younger generation, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did not start this cultural movement, but they have served as a catalyst for its robust growth and worldwide propagation. And while the new generation of hacktivists has Wikileaks as its model, they also grew up in the era of George W. Bush’s neo-imperialism and its attendant war against transparency. WikiLeaks is the answer to the age of W, and it has given rise to what I call Generation W.

Perhaps the surest sign of the mainstreaming of hacktivism was when 4chan underwent a metamorphosis from a group of kids trading anime and lolcat images and occasionally trolling for lulz into a potent political hacktivist movement, quite willing and able to take Mastercard and the Bank of America offline for refusing to process payments to WikiLeaks.

Of course, 4chan’s "Operation Payback" was originally motivated by the draconian actions of lawyers trying to advance bogus copyright claims, but their basic underlying principle was the same hacktivist ethic motivating their defense of WikiLeaks: information wants to be free; it should not be hoarded by powerful nation states, nor should it be under the control of powerful commercial interests.

The 4chan actions that have received attention in the media have involved the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Mastercard and Bank of America, but there have been smaller and much more telling episodes in which young people with 4chan backgrounds have created their own hacktivist operations and deployed them with impressive effect.

In one recent case, reported in my essay "Watching the Watchers: Power and Politics in Second Life" a group of Woodbury University students affiliated with 4Chan created a group called "The Wrong Hands" (as in "if this information should find its way into the wrong hands…"). They subsequently infiltrated an online vigilante group that was operating inside of the virtual world Second Life. The vigilante group (known as the JLU) was exposed as having an extensive surveillance operation in Second Life — one that tracked individuals in the virtual world and kept files on those individuals. Indeed, their database contained 1,700 pages of information and misinformation on users, ranging from chat logs, to presumed real life information about Second Life users.

Once the Wrong Hands infiltrated the JLU, they leaked the contents of the JLU database, posting it in many locations online. Shockingly, the leaked evidence suggested that the JLU surveillance activities were being backed by employees of Linden Lab (the company that owns Second Life), and further that Linden Lab employees were providing the JLU with special technical capabilities that could facilitated their surveillance operation.

In a later development, The Wrong Hands exposed the shady past of the key programmers of a software company (Modular Systems), which was developing a viewer for Second Life (a viewer is the interface program that people use on their home computers to mediate their interactions with the virtual world). These programmers were exposed by the Wrong Hands as having backgrounds not only in writing malicious code, but also other activities that violated the terms of service — in particular, theft of intellectual property. The Wrong Hands subsequently uncovered an even bigger surveillance/data mining operation conducted through the Modular Systems’s viewer. The company, which had several former Linden Lab employees on staff, folded shortly after the exposé.

No one is saying that the operations exposed by the Wrong Hands were equivalent to the Afghan War documents or the State Department cables exposed by Wikileaks; the real moral is not the importance of the exposed information, but rather the fact that the Wikileaks operation could provide a model for a new generation of hacktivists. Wikileaks is teaching young people by example.

Assange may eventually be incarcerated or worse, but the genie is definitely out of the bottle at this point. There is no question but that hacktivist culture is now a worldwide phenomenon. The interesting question is not whether hacktivist culture will change our world. The interesting question now is what our world will look like after it is reshaped by hacktivist culture. Will corrupt businesses be exposed and put out of business? Will governments be forced to be more transparent? Will they collapse from the cost of expending energy on protecting their closed networks? Or will hacktivism lead to more secretive and insular governments? One thing is clear: things are not going to stay the same.

this article first appeared in the Huffington Post

43 Responses to “Generation W: WikiLeaks Ignites a New Generation of Hacktivists”

  1. Tarheel McCoy

    Jan 5th, 2011

    Same tired old shit, Urizenus, and astroturfing it at that.

    One of the comments I read on your work got me to thinking – do these kids realize you’re behind all these pushing them and facilitating it so that you can varnish your own reputation? Are you working on a doctoral thesis and building it on the backs of these kids (some of whom are going to jail for it or getting themselves into irreversible life troubles?) Because that’s what it looks like.

  2. Tux

    Jan 5th, 2011

    Seen a few TWH group tags of late (although the bearers seem more than a little paranoid – one implied I was JLU – XD)

  3. Winter Seale

    Jan 5th, 2011

    Oh huffpo, will you ever not be a joke?

  4. Tarheel McCoy

    Jan 5th, 2011

  5. Little Birdy

    Jan 5th, 2011

    The motives behind the Wrong Hands group is a little less than what you’re hyperbolizing.
    They did it for efame more than anything else. Not so much because they felt it was the right thing to do. It’s the same attitude Anonymous has with it’s crusades on the interwebs.

    What were witnessing is the birth of a Orwellian State on the Internet. Whatever you say or do on here lives forever. And common people have access to tools to use that information if they feel it necessary. All of a sudden everyone becomes a “hacker” . And there are no consequences afterwards.
    I support information wanting to be free. But I don’t support invasion of privacy for “great justice”.

  6. Johnny

    Jan 5th, 2011

    “What were witnessing is the birth of a Orwellian State on the Internet. Whatever you say or do on here lives forever.”

    That’s actually the opposite of the State depicted in 1984, where facts inconvenient to the ruling class could be airbrushed out of history. (“We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”)

    The persistence of information on the internet is a two-edged sword. It can be a powerful tool that the state can use to track the activities of dissidents, but equally it means that our rulers’ crimes are harder to cover up, and once uncovered can never be suppressed.

    The lesson of Wikileaks is that the ruling class will have to work much harder to keep us in the dark about their activities. I don’t think hacktivism on its own will bring down the system – the likes of 4chan are too disorganised for that – but it will provide ammunition for radical movements to work with, in the form of information about what’s really going on in the world.

  7. Emperor Norton hears a who?

    Jan 5th, 2011

    Johny @ “The persistence of information on the internet is a two-edged sword. It can be a powerful tool that the state can use to track the activities of dissidents, but equally it means that our rulers’ crimes are harder to cover up, and once uncovered can never be suppressed.”

    A “crime” and a “selflessly public spirited act” are a matter of perception largely created out shamed the powerful feel about it themselves. One just has to look at Sarah Palin to see an example of the politician of the open information future.

  8. Paul

    Jan 5th, 2011

    making Gene Simmons’s website wobble for a couple of hours.. that is some SERIOUS activism!!!

  9. Axel Oakleaf

    Jan 5th, 2011

  10. edna

    Jan 5th, 2011

    I think that chasing around a couple geeks wearing super hero avatars in an on line game is just a little bit different from giving away a nation’s strategic military plans that protect the lives of hundreds of millions to a group of blood thirsty terrorists whose holy book urges them to rape and murder anyone that thinks differently than they do.

  11. Emperor Norton hears a who?

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Urizenus Sklar @ “In one recent case, reported in my essay “Watching the Watchers: Power and Politics in Second Life” a group of Woodbury University students affiliated with 4Chan created a group called “The Wrong Hands”"

    That’s a pretty hilarious blank spot on the gird were Wooburried was. Gee, they really showed mean old Linden Lab. Didn’t they?

  12. Marx Dudek

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Free Republic.

    *dissolves into howls of laughter*

  13. Urizenus Sklar

    Jan 6th, 2011

    “Wikileaks is Unamerican.”

    omg, how *dare* those Australians be unamerican. The hubris!

  14. Senban Babii

    Jan 6th, 2011


    “omg, how *dare* those Australians be unamerican. The hubris!”

    See now I’m worried in case I turn out to be unamerican too.

    I mean how American is American enough? Is there some kind of test we can sit?

  15. -

    Jan 6th, 2011

    How American is American enough? Not american at ALL is juuust about right for any person I’d say.

  16. just another dodo

    Jan 6th, 2011

    “a nation’s strategic military plans that protect the lives of hundreds of millions”

    Shouldnt that be

    ‘A nation’s strategic plans that protect the interrests of the big oil and weapons manufacturing companies’

    and just a hint… Why do you think people in the Middle east are so unhappy about the west?

    If let’s say Japan with the help of China and Taiwan had been all over the US and Europe fucking shit up, forcing people to convert to Taoism and funneling out natural resources since the middle ages, woudn’t you feel at least a little bit of resentment towards the far east…?

    FYI. That holy book tells them they should be compelety OK with anyone and their own beliefs. But just tells them to kick the shit out of anyone that tries to oppose them. Kinda like our own holy book. Wether it’s the bible or a nation’s foreign policy.

    and you really shouldnt use words like ‘rape’ and ‘murder’ in your argument like this. As if the invading countries that have been fucking up matters in the middle east didnt ever do anything like that.

    Yes, you guessed it. I am in support of Wikileaks. Finally someone that stands up against the Kalel Venkmans and Green Lanterns of RL that go about the planet thinking they are the chosen ones to set things right.

    Thanks for the US’s contribution against Hitler and all that, but full credit for liberating our own little corner of Europe really goes to the Polish, not the US soldiers anyways.

  17. Judge Joker

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Kalel Venkman and Green Lantern are more like TSA assistants from the canine division, after sniffing your crotch and noticing a pungent odor they won’t officially (legally) get to touch you up but they sure as hell can pull you to one side for it without any evidence other than what you smell like.

    Also have you heard? there’s a RL group of “coon and friends” patrolling the streets of a city in superhero costumes, nothing new but one guy calls himself Green Lantern perhaps we’ll see an article on here about augmented reality superheros.

    This group of “coon and friends” also have the balls to tell the police to disregard 2 certain individuals who also patrol the same streets as “none members” of their group.

    I’ll assume when an old lady dies of a heart attack of seeing captain planet beating up some disadvantaged youths they don’t want it to cause an issue for them.

    After all what’s a law to a superhero in the line of duty?

    Ps. congrats on being featured on the Huffington Post, I suppose Kalel is hovering around somewhere planning his next move, like the evil wolf from three little pigs.

    I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll DMCA your ass down!

    OK now I’m just being silly though perhaps now due to amaretto vs ozimals we can now cock block his DMCA’s by using the same Judge Joker!

  18. Senban Babii

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Judge, do you have a link to that story by any chance? Only I’ve just been reading this article a few minutes ago and wonder if they’re related?

  19. Judge Joker

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Investigators identified nine people dressed in costume going around Seattle after dark. A police source said the characters go by Thorn, Buster Doe, Green Reaper, Gemini, No Name, Catastrophe, Thunder 88, Penelope and Phoenix Jones the Guardian of Seattle.

    Sorry double post :P

  20. Judge Joker

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Also my bad triple post it’s “Green Reaper” I must have flashed over it and thought “Green Lantern”!

  21. Senban Babii

    Jan 6th, 2011

    Thanks Judge :)

    Yes, Phoenix Jones is the same person in the article I was reading.

    You know what happens when the mentally deficient start to delude themselves into believing they are superheroes? This.

  22. Judge Joker

    Jan 6th, 2011

    You know who else went by the name “Green Reaper”?

    I expect furry jokes….

  23. Tux

    Jan 6th, 2011

    LMFAO – does this mean a reduce JLU presence in SL? I really doubt any of them tread street.

    I also think Senban’s last link shows someone is obviously providing funding to them. The pictures obviously cost a bit to produce. Wouldn’t that money be better spent buying a space station or bat cave or something? With the exception to the woman, all the rest look very similar too. Perhaps brothers? Perhaps the woman likes to keep it in the family!

    I wonder if they have a secret database they connect to on their android phones?

    Still LMFAO!

  24. The Anti Herald

    Jan 6th, 2011

    I’m sure seeing a lot of butthurt whiners here. I applaud this. The Herald has lost 60% of its readers over it since last June, and 100% of its paying advertisers. Please, whine more. It’s great for the Herald^H^H^H^Hthe rest of us.

  25. Gundel Gaukelei

    Jan 8th, 2011

    Hacktivist culture is rapidly morphing from a small underground subculture into mainstream culture for a younger generation

    Those livestyl0rz will hack shit.

  26. General Drama

    Jan 9th, 2011

    I wouldn’t say its lost 60% of its readers any faster than public interest has waned in SL in general, in the JLU, and most certainly Prok’s blog, even if she does post on the Herald as Tarheel McCoy.

  27. Axel Oakleaf

    Jan 9th, 2011

    Sarah Palin 2012!

  28. Yep

    Jan 11th, 2011

    and Phoenix Jones getting his ass kicked…

  29. Kiddoh

    Jan 11th, 2011

    IRL super-heroes, really?

  30. Gaara Sandalwood

    Jan 19th, 2011

    Someone took Kickass too seriously.

  31. had enough

    Jan 29th, 2011

    “Somehow I do not think these people are having fun now.”
    Sure they are.
    The 4chan fur-fags will be happy picking up the soap in the shower for Bubba. Throw the book at these weirdos.

  32. lolol

    Jan 30th, 2011

    Good I am happy 4 chan furries got nailed to the cross. They give the interweb a bad name.

  33. lolol

    Feb 7th, 2011

    It looks like another grid was attacked by hackers.

    Some people have far to much time on their hands.

  34. Dexter

    Feb 8th, 2011

    Would this be the Linden attempt@ sabotoge again?

  35. had enough

    Feb 8th, 2011

    yeah this has been going on for awhile the attack on Inworldz. I hope the little furry hacktards behind this get taken to court.

  36. hobo kelly

    Feb 8th, 2011

    hey, i just heard, while watching Fox News, that the Left Wing Nutball Hatch called the Huffington Post has just been bought out by AOL…. hahahaaaa great place for it.

    now sober up

  37. lolwut

    Feb 8th, 2011

    LOL 4channers are furries now?

    I’ll just leave this here. As a little evidence of your retardation.

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