When activism and hacktivism defeat censorship

As a powerful force of causality, the tragic death of Masa Amini two years ago at the hands of Iran’s morality police for not wearing a hijab ignited a global women’s rights uprising within 24 hours and sparked outrage across the globe. Somewhere in the waves of protests embracing the world, Anonymous was there, declaring war against the Iranian government.

However, women en-mass removed their hijabs in solidarity as courage and strength in numbers increased, knowing the consequences they faced. But they were no longer fighting alone, as even men joined the uprising for women’s freedom.

As the uprising swept across Iran, women set their hijabs on fire. Protestors in great numbers cried for the overthrow of Iran’s government. Their cries of outrage rolled across the world like waves, because their voices were being heard across the world.

Demonstrations of solidarity by men and women materialized in Turkey, Canada, Sweden, Italy, and the United States. The name of Mahsa Amini’s movement was called the “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising.

However, the power that solidified a movement of this magnitude was not hacktivism.

It was activism.

This is the key ingredient of every revolutionary act. The mobilization of able bodies and voices joined in solidarity will always be more formidable than unleashing a torrential packet storm or defacements of government websites.

While mainstream hacktivism has its own ideas on how to improve a movement like the one described above, let’s examine other elements where activists rely on an intercorrelating relationship with hacktivists.

After all, in the age of the internet, hacktivism has evolved into an inalienable component of protest movements assembling on the ground. That is because we are capable of wielding the greatest weapon of all in our arsenal, which isn’t exploits or the latest hacking tool.

It’s information.

Hacktivism: harbingers that shape revolutions

I was there, somewhere in the midst of OpIran in both 2009 and 2022. As controversial as it will be to say, the actions taken by most mainstream hacktivists amounted to pretty much nothing.

Taking down websites does not have the same effect as protestors on the streets. In all our idealism, we often lack the foresight to see beyond our initial attacks. We see a target, hit it, and then pass out merit badges. But what if I told you that something bigger does take form from these menial attacks?

Unaware of the ripples of cause and effect that have been echoing across the World Wide Web and pouring forth to a global audience, hacktivism is a vessel for disseminating information.

You must understand, that information is currency, and disinformation translates to the control of knowledge. Put simply, the greatest weapon against censorship and disinformation is seizing the narrative. After all, Benjamin Franklin once said, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

Each onslaught against State websites and every data breach carries a story, denoting the reason why we protest, regardless of whether or not it helps protestors advance their demands. Each act of hacktivism tells a story that strengthens the overarching narrative empowering a movement. It amplifies the voices of the protest to foreign listeners heeding the story abroad, helping spark microcosms of the same demonstrations in other countries.

For the first time in my life, I refrained from joining in the cyberattacks so I could try to perceive the bigger picture beyond the looking glass. I told the Iranian protestors who were begging for my help that there was no greater force than their solidarity and united front.

Hackers can’t save them. Following this same vein of thought, the song “Anonymous” by Dirtyphonics, says, “In the age of the internet, people still fail to realize that real life and internet are not the same.”

We can, however, carry their message to the world while providing tactical support when censorship and disinformation overshadow the activism landscape, in an arbitrary attempt to hamstring a movement.

Data smugglers free the flow of information

If there is one thing hacktivists and political dissidents do right, it’s social media mobilization. This is no small achievement. Nearly half of the global population has suffered some form of politically motivated internet disruption in 2022 alone.

Thus, if despotic governments depend on censorship as their foremost weapon in their information warfare arsenal, then defeating censorship is ours. In this way, we’ve shifted away from naive idealism and into actual information warfare.

From OpIran 2009, the Arab Spring of 2010, Occupy WallStreet, WikiLeaks, and every other global protest between then and OpRussia and FreePalestine, our ability to educate protestors at ground zero on how to use online anonymity tools and smuggle media to the world strikes a note of defiance that can not be controlled by despotism.

I’ve personally seen internet and mobile connectivity disrupted in both Iran and Gaza, which made international headlines. In April, the Russian state-backed APT44 group known as Sandworm attempted to force Ukraine’s internet providers offline, but was unsuccessful.

I knew several hackers years ago who secretly maneuvered through internet blackouts during the Arab Spring. They slipped into countries and met with activists and political dissidents, armed with laptops and USB thumb drives with online anonymity tools, and taught them how to use the tools while collecting photos and video footage of the uprisings to smuggle outside the country.

When the internet and mobile networks went dark, they smuggled data out of the country. This is what hackers are doing now, and they are evolving rapidly. Somehow, we have turned into underground educators of censorship-defeating technologies and data smugglers. At a core level, we have always believed in the free flow of information, a belief that never falters.

Those who control the flow of information control the narrative.

Controlling the narrative during information warfare

Because of the overflow of information flowing out of Gaza, including the resignation of half a dozen US State Department officials in protest of the Biden Administration’s stance in the war, the courageous journalism, and the innumerable decentralized army of hacktivists, the information war has tipped in favor of the Palestinian people. Never before has the eyes and hearts of the world been so tuned to the Palestinian struggle.

The wanton misdirection and sleight of hand played by so many Western mainstream media platforms have come to naught because we have secured the media battlefield by which this information war is striving.

Perhaps because people aren’t buying the government's narrative anymore, they have turned their focus inwardly against citizens supporting Palestine. One cannot sidestep the stories of Israeli police beating Jewish citizens in their own country protesting the war, and not witness the many videos depicting US police violently clashing with pro-Palestinian protestors.

The narrative has been freed.

Hackers are smuggling information and releasing it for the world to see, seizing IP cameras in war zones to aid civilians, and doxxing enemy agents and exposing their identities to the world. Every defacement carries a story, and every distributed denial of Service (DDoS) attack propagates the purpose. We have our own boots on the ground now.

I am often extremely critical of hacktivism. But this is one of the few things we do manage to get right. When activism merges with hacktivism, the two microcosms merge into one, massive extraordinary living organism that cannot be stopped.

Together, we actually do reach the world.