Digital thugs

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
5 July, 2016
Editorial: 10
Fecha de publicación original: 12 marzo, 1996

Date of publication: 12/03/1996. Editorial 010.

To take the nuts from the fire with the dog’s foot

The World Wide Web is Internet’s glittering window display. The enormous department store open 24 hours a day, with its neon signs blazing and its shelves constantly stocked with goods, services and promises. They say that a new web is published every four seconds. Depending on who you listen to, the total number of pages is somewhere between 15 and l9 million. Cyberspace is taking shape around this multi-coloured crowd of purveyors of information who are constantly creating and recreating new spaces, the neighbourhoods, squares, avenues and streets of the digital town. I’ve stopped at streets, but I could have gone on to back alleys, wastelands and slums, because these also exist on the World Wide Web.

While the big names draw public attention with the slickness of their pages and the prestige of their corporate images, on the margins of the WWW an unequal battle is being waged, with skirmishes and electronic guerilla warfare. The objective is none other than to impose a set ideological tone to the information which circulates around Internet. Up until now, this phenomenon has manifested itself mainly in the United States, without attracting much public attention, like a costly war being waged on the quiet. Now, little by little, it is starting to crop up more and more, and more and more blatantly, under the cloak of “Internetitis” (the feverish desire to regulate the contents of Internet) which afflicts governments and which is beginning to acquire the dimensions of a world wide epidemic.

Many North American ecological groups – as well as many other organisations dedicated to issues which affect so-called minority groups – have been the first target of this dirty war. These groups have seen their audience and their capacity for social reach increased enormously thanks to Internet. Whereas before they were just a few individuals answering to a limited local demand, now, via the WWW, they have been transformed overnight into a powerful network of organisations capable of mobilising their resources quickly and of holding tycoons and corporations at bay. And this has made a lot of people unhappy. Above all, the tycoons and the corporations and (why not?) the “moral majority” who usually have a particular weakness for these two specimens of nature. Before the appearance of the Internet, the answer to this unhappiness was usually channelled through physical aggression – people were beaten up, the headquarters of the “enemy” were destroyed and a wide catalogue of crimes were perpetrated – crimes which were usually covered up by a well-meaning community, even when they included murder.

Now, with the advent of Internet, things are not so easy. Computers are everywhere and the importance of their message lies in the capacity of the internaut to bring together and synthesize information generated in many different places. The method of “ideological struggle” has therefore changed. In tune with the times, the protagonist is now the digital thug. These are children or youths contracted by right-wing groups –frequently backed by federal or state security forces–, who are provided with top class equipment to disguise their identity, and who then infiltrate the systems of the “enemy”, scribble all over their screens, saturate their services with junk information (several megas of electronic mail with useless files) or keep them constantly busy or even, more directly, destroy them completely to stop them broadcasting their ideas through the Web.

The fact that they act on the margins of the Web and are scarcely noticed doesn’t diminish the seriousness of this kind of behaviour. Looming before us is the spectre of what could, in the very near future, result from the desire of the great centres of power to recover control of information and knowledge which has been torn away from them by Internet. They use methods which they know only too well, their coffers are full to overflowing and, as usual, it’s only the thugs who show their faces. They don’t get their hands dirty themselves. However, their possibilities of success are very small. They may be able to “disconnect” some internauts for a short time, but there will always be a lot more willing to loan their electronic memories to keep them in Cyberspace.The digital thugs and their bosses may have their fun for a while but, in the long run, they will find out how difficult the transition from post-industrial society to the information society is going to be for them. Of course, showing your disagreement by leaving a message on your neighbour’s screen is by no means ruled out by Internet. But it has to be signed: so in this way, we’ll all know who’s who, what each person is thinking, and where we are when faced with all the problems life has to offer us. This is exactly one of the factors which has contributed to the unstoppable success of interactive on-line communication.

Translation: Bridget King