james debate
james debate

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Internet is a technology which has had a lot of promise over the years. The ability for seamless, easy and anonymous world wide communication between anyone and everyone, anywhere in the world has long held extremely apparent potential for bringing people together.

Every year it becomes even easier. First came chat rooms and instant messenger, then we all went to message boards and skype. Nowadays anyone with an internet connection can find a forum for extremely easy and uncensored discourse on anything in their minds on image boards like 4chan, websites like slashdot and social networking sites like Facebook. Websites like Wikileaks have struck a massive win for freedom of speech by allowing safe and uncensored dissemination of knowledge and documents from anyone.

It is in these websites and services that the true ideology of freedom and truth is alive and kicking. And it is here that the collective efforts of geeks and activists all over the world has spawned its own central identity. Young people are once again becoming more and more active in the world of politics and protest for what they believe in. It's like the 1960s, except with more lulz.

Groups like Anonymous have matured from a loose confederation of bored teenagers and hackers to fully fledged activists with a growing confidence that they CAN make a difference in the real world, that enough people standing together for a common belief, in this case the belief in freedom and truth, can make a difference. But the question is can they really?

To begin with, these protests remained in the same medium in which they originated, the internet. They started off small with protests against racism on website Habbo Hotel and moved onto fully fledged vigilantism, resulting in the tracking and eventual arrest of a very real pedophile.

More recently, online rallying has been moving on to even bigger stages. Thanks to the combined efforts of internet groups, we managed to Rick Roll the New York Mets during a live sporting event. Since then Anonymous has also pulled off the now famous hacking of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's email account, on which she was reportedly hiding her corrupt goings on by conducting sensitive business on personal email accounts where no official watchdog would see it, as opposed to her official government email. Indeed since then a judge has decreed that the findings from her email account must be examined for wrongdoing. Score one massive win for the internet.

Indeed there is every reason to make the claim that should Barack Obama be elected President next month, this will be remembered as 'the President the Internet elected'. It is through websites like Facebook that Obama first reached out to a Nation's youth and mobilized a powerful and idealistic base. This has since become his strongest demographic which he has used to propel himself towards victory, and the major x-factor in his campaign, resulting in record turnout amongst young voters. I repeat: Barack Obama could well be called the first President elected by the internet.

But this isn't enough for the internet. Anonymous wants to bring down an entire 'religion'. Of course i use the term lightly. Calling the Church of Scientology a 'religion' is like calling Al Qaeda a group of 'freedom fighters', naive in the extreme. Sadly we may not be far off from a PC-gone-mad world where we refer to them as just that, after reading about a peaceful protester who was arrested for referring to Scientology as a 'cult'. Pure madness.

Probably the biggest mobilization of manpower has come in this pursuit, where Anonymous has amassed an unprecedented number of young protestors from all over the world to go protest outside Scientology buildings, protesting for the right to freedom of speech, protesting the financial exploitation of church members, and increasing awareness of the egregious violations of human rights committed by the church. In their eyes, the 'Church of Scientology', ironically, goes against everything that 'scientology' actually means (the study of truth).

These mass protests lead to what you see in the picture above ^ hundreds of young people standing up for what they believe in. And all in good spirit too; those attending one of these protests, exclusively peaceful and civilized in nature, will encounter kids singing phrases such as 'the cake is a lie' and playing rick astley on boom boxes pointed squarely at the scientology buildings. These people don't want to fight or cause trouble, but similarly they will not stand by and let things like this go on.

Initally there existed the problem of anonymity. On the internet this is not a problem for obvious reasons, but with people protesting against Scientology there are inevitably repercussions, including claims of protesters being stalked, harassed and threatened. It is for this reason that they don the Guy Fawkes mask, inspired by cult film V For Vendetta in which the mask is used for similar purposes, letting the people stand up for freedom against a totalitarian government. Indeed the movie seems to draw many parallels with these protests, so it is very fitting that such masks are used.

And so; much like the final scene of V for Vendetta, where the failed attempts of the few to bring about change inspire the actions of the masses to take up the cause; we see now the internet growing in strength, bringing together young and idealistic activists, with an influence that grows ever larger as time goes on. Yesterday it's habbo hotel, today it's the church of Scientology and tomorrow the White House... who knows where this brave new political entity will find itself in ten years time?
This is my question to you.

But with this question comes a warning. Throughout history we've seen political movements that start with the most honorable of intentions, such as freedom, liberty, equality, much in the same vein as what we're seeing amongst the online youth today. If we as a group ever do succeed in these aims we would do well to heed the lesson of past revolutionaries, such as the French and Russians, lest it lead to the inevitable corruption of power and success, and we become no better than the people we stand against today.
As it is said, you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

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