How Old School Internet Cleans Up Its Act

The internet used to be described as the Wild West, a place where there were no rules per se, but users kept each other in line with the fear that anyone behaving poorly would be met by others teaching him a good lesson on how not to act.  It may have resembled a school yard, but it worked.  And that meant the the well-intended saviors of propriety could keep their noses out of it.

Doesn’t sound familiar?  That’s because it’s all gone mainstream, more like a shopping mall with mall cops than the Wild West, with lawprofs writing lengthy yet boring articles on how to stifle speech and thought, how to impose their delightfully sweet vision of etiquette, and make the internet safe for shopping and political correctness.

Yet, below the veneer of shininess, of happy faces blowing kisses in the hope of making a quick sale, there remains the ugliness of those who use the internet for bad things.  Recently,  Marc Randazza, with some help from Popehat and others, outed one bad guy who created a website for disturbed people to post naked photos of others, and then  created a fake lawyer who the victims could pay to get their photos removed. 

Going to battle against slime on the internet is a mitzvah, a good deed, but often a difficult one to pursue.  The problem is that the forces of evil have a vested interest in winning the war, as they are making money off their diseased scheme, while the forces of good are merely trying to clean up the mess. One will spend his every waking moment fighting, while the other has to fit it in when he can. It’s not a fair fight.

But then Marc posted this :

While a somewhat different target, this is remarkably similar to the second stringers targeted by Marc, with the added component of this mutt including home addresses of his victims.  Here is  the text of the message to Hunter Moore.

While many fear Anonymous, as its nature precludes control by the forces who want to turn the internet into a happy place, there remains a truth, that the nature of the internet will never be fully controlled by laws, by courts, by well-intended hand-wringers.  They may be able to constrain individuals, but not the internet.

Despite the heresy of this coming from someone as “establishment” as a lawyer, my time online leaves me no doubt that despite the best efforts of governments, of academia, of control freaks, to make the rules of engagement online, they will never be able to control the internet.  To the extent that anything exists to constrain the forces of evil, it’s Anonymous.

Hate them? Hate that they can’t be controlled? Hate that they may make a choice with which you don’t agree, and be your bad guys?  This may well be true, but without Anonymous, there would be no way to strike fear in the hearts of these scum at all.

You may not like life in the schoolyard, but if you end up being beaten up by the bully, you will be pretty darned glad that someone bigger and stronger punches him in the nose.  This was how the web policed itself before you got here, and despite your best efforts to “civilize it” so you can use it to make a quick buck, it remains the last guardian of the internet.  Hate Anonymous all you want, but when things go bad, they will be our last defense.

8 comments on “How Old School Internet Cleans Up Its Act

  1. John Burgess

    It pains me to say it, but you’re right.

    The pain comes from my strong distaste for vigilante justice. But I also realize that once government gets called in to ‘fix’ things, they make a bigger mess and always at the expense of freedom.

    I’m still not going to be sending money to Anonymous, but I may refrain from throwing the brick I have in my hand.

  2. SHG

    The internet is extrajurisdictional, extraterritorial, too fast to address and beyond the reach of any government. The law, even if its efficacy and propriety was assured, will never be capable of dealing with the worst online. It’s not a matter of liking it, as much as realizing that there is no law, no government, that can accomplish what Anonymous can do.

  3. Wyrd

    I haven’t been on the Internet since the very beginning, but I have been at least vaguely online since 1994. And for more geek points I’ve read up on the historical internet that existed before then when it was all DARPANet based and USENET news groups and a PC couldn’t even hope to run the TCP/IP protocol stack. I also read all about the E.F.F. in the freely available book “The Hacker Crackdown”. There’s some good (meaning bad) stuff in there about how the Secret Service went after Steve Jackson games for what turned out to be no-good-reason.

    I don’t hate Anonymous, but I do get concerned that, kinda like any other vigilantism, they might sometimes or often harm innocent people in their quest to get whomever they’ve decided is a bad guy. For instance, there’s been at least one or multiple occasions where Anonymous has released lists of names, email addresses and other personal details of employees that work for an organization that Anonymous has decided has done something bad. But those specific employees were not to blame, yet even so now their info is out in the wild.

    Then there’s the lack of organization thing. I could be wrong, but I doubt very much that there’s a lot of true organization or structure to Anonymous. I think there’s very little to stop some random person from simply declaring themselves to be a member and carrying out acts in the groups name. Yes, yes, I’m sure the counter-argument involves the suggestion that Anonymous polices itself. But I remain pretty highly skeptical of the ability of some sekrit org to *successfully* protect its “brand”.

    Having said that–I don’t hate Anonymous. I guess I just mean that, while I don’t see Anonymous as “the problem”, I *also* don’t see Anonymous as “the solution”.

    So what’s the solution? Yeah, well this is why I’m no fun at parties. Now, like most times, I don’t have a good solution in mind. Just keep on keepin’ on, I suppose.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  4. Wyrd

    “once government gets called in to ‘fix’ things, they make a bigger mess and always at the expense of freedom.”

    That’s true.

  5. SHG

    There’s no controlling Anonymous, and every expectation that it can act in ways that any of us will find unpalatable. Welcome to the internet.

  6. Dismoun

    The problem with anonymous isn’t in its efficacy, it lies in its aim. Witness the incident recently when ‘Anonymous’ decided to out the person who was blackmailing bullying-suicide victim Amanda Todd, and ended up harassing and threatening an innocent person.

    Sure, we can exult when Anonymous decides to torment some hideous misogynist, but ask yourself as a lawyer, do the grounds exist on which this man’s guilt has been proven? Would you be happy to see Anonymous turn its efforts to ruining one of your clients, for crimes they were alleged to have committed?

    Moreover, Anon. is highly selective in its targeting. It rarely chooses obscure or small scale violators, since it depends entirely on the volunteer time of bored malcontents, Anonymous is only capable of reacting to events that are widely publicized enough to attract significant attention from law enforcement agencies as well.

    Like it or not, there is a system in place by which issues such as these are supposed to be arrested. Cheerleading for the vigilantes who appoint themselves as judge, jury and executioner of those who they view as wrong, and who are sufficiently interesting as to attract their attention seems out of character for you.

    Anonymous would be of more use if it attempted to fix the problems with our existing justice systems, exposing the flaws and flawed people involved there, rather than in punishing people who are already widely reviled.

  7. SHG

    True, Anonymous isn’t subject to control or necessarily good judgment. True, they only seem to come out on big issues, and can’t be counted on, either to be there or to be on the right side. True, they play judge, jury and executioner, and don’t await the niceties of proof before deciding.

    All true. But if Anonymous worked within the system (yes, the system to which I’ve dedicated 30 years of my life), it would be ineffective and pointless, and there would be no counterpoint to the system to keep the system honest or compensate for the system’s failings.  Like all power, it has to be used wisely. Can you say the system has done better using power wisely than Anonymous? Can you say that the existence of Anonymous doesn’t serve to some extent to keep the system’s abuses in check? 

    Most importantly, the internet isn’t a people who asked to be governed, and yet government wants to seize control. They were never invited to the party, and from the beginning, the party determined that it would make its own rules and enforce them via its own internet methods. It worked surprisingly well.

  8. Pingback: Hunter Moore Arrested: Who’s Next? | Simple Justice

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