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Event Summary: “Hacktivists, Cyberwarriors and International Relations”

In recent weeks, the International Relations Society hosted a conference on Hacktivism at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. Given the event’s focus on social action via the Internet, a few members from the Boler Research Team attended. Here is a quick summary of some of the highlights.

How secure are we online?
The keynote address from the Citizen Lab‘s Ron Diebert, emphasized how we must not take technology at face value. Diebert urged that citizens in the digital age need to question where their data goes (when you send an email, who can see it, besides just you and the recipient?) Increasingly, Diebert concluded, this will mean questioning the authorities who control these systems of information and content-sharing platforms.

Along with his talk, he provided URLs to further demonstrate the current status of cyberspace. Some of the URLs presented are as follows:

Hacktivism and Democracy-Building. Good or Bad? 

One of the panels featured Dr. Gabriela Coleman, and Dr. Stefania Milan discussing the pros and cons of  Hacktivism for a democratic society.

Dr. Coleman started things off with a presentation that was more performance art than panel chat, on the “Aphorisms of Anonymous”. Her presentation briefly tracked the history of Anonymous, the now-infamous loosely-associated hacker network. She then drew on aphorisms by Nietzche, like “Nothing succeeds if prankishness has no part in it,” to describe different elements of Anonymous as a movement (a massive movement of tricksters, when looking at it in this context).  Her talk really brought to life the different ways in which “trollish” behaviour might also be powerful, important for democratic aims, but also the paradox in that Anonymous seeks to expose state secrecy, but is a highly secretive movement in itself.

Next, Dr. Milan took the podium, explaning how hacktivism is not only “good for” democracy, but might be seen as a form of democracy in itself, as it could be conceived of as a method of “protest”. She spoke about the way in which hacktivism was challenging prior assumptions about political activism, especially by decoupling the notion of “resistance” with physical presence. According to Dr. Milan, there is much to be learned from such groups as Anonymous, as they point the broader public to a new model of cyber activism.

**The real takeaway for our purposes from this panel, was, as Dr. Milan put it “we cannot afford to raise our kids without the knowledge of these systems”. Here, she was referring to a more intimate knowledge of how the Internet functions and also what benefits and risks are associated with using it for activist purposes. Dr. Coleman emphasized that computing knowledge is power and this led to a discussion around the importance of teaching coding especially, so that the next generations stay connected to the languages that make up the internet.**

Written by Averie MacDonald (@averiemac) & Jennie Phillips (@drchangelove)

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