Many Americans value their ability and right to protest but is protesting anonymously as valuable?
Americans are familiar with events such as the Boston Tea Party, the Stonewall riots and the Selma to Montgomery marches. Physical protesting may be diminishing as citizens turn to the Internet to voice their political concerns.
These protesters are using a new medium to make their point and it may be more powerful than the well known marches and picketing. Internet protesting is becoming a new form for political expression.
Nestlé, famous for many confections including KitKat bars, was attacked last May by protesters.
In Nestle’s case, the organization known as Greenpeace began protesting the corporation’s use of palm oil in their products. Greenpeace was motivated by the clearing of thousands of rain forest acres for harvesting palm oil.
The protesters functioned completely online, targeting websites like Facebook to further their cause.
“Nestlé wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint,” announced Nestlé last May. The company has since teamed up with the international non-profit Forest Trust to reduce the impact on forests.
“I think protesting is a good thing… especially at a time when so many of our thoughts are packaged and given to us and not questioned,” said Terry Krueger, a Central Oregon Community College writing and literature professor. “It’s an important part of growing up and becoming a responsible citizen. I mean this country is based on protests.”
More recently a group that call themselves Anonymous have been wreaking havoc on a number of websites that have cut off resources to Wikileaks, a website under heavy scrutiny for releasing internal government documents.
One tactic being used is distributing denial of service attacks, where members of the group send thousands of requests to websites so that it can’t respond to legitimate traffic.
The anonymity gives the group the ability to disrupt corporate websites without facing any consequences.
“An anonymous protest seems to me to be futile. Part of coming up with ideas is owning it, being responsible for it, suffering the consequences of it and the benefits from it,” said Krueger.
Anonymous is supposedly not based anywhere in particular, with its first protests focused on the Church of Scientology.
The members use programs like the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, which overloads websites with requests to the website’s server. LOIC was originally designed to test the stress a website can take from online traffic.
When members of Anonymous partake in physical protests they often wear masks, with the most common being the Guy Fawkes mask. Fawkes was part of a plot to assassinate Britain’s King James I in 1605. The mask itself was made popular by the film “V for Vendetta.”
“We believe that free speech is non negotiable. The quality of an idea matters more than its authors, and the radical notion that information should be free,” said the group Anonymous in a video on their website, http://whyweprotest.net.
Anonymity on the Internet is being called into question.
Kentucky representative Tim Couch proposed a bill that would require anyone who wants to leave a comment on a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with the website.
Users would be expected to use their real name whenever they commented. If websites in Kentucky failed to do this, they would be fined. The bill is now facing resistance from online communities.
“When you can change identities and genders and you can rail about things with no possible consequences, the railing often takes over for the responsible thinking,” said Krueger about protesting anonymously.
Members of the group Anonymous could potentially face criminal charges. The group is currently being investigated by the FBI. Despite the investigations, Anonymous has mounted another protest which happened on Jan. 15. The group called for a global protest, according to their website.
“One of the functions of protests is to create and part of that creation is taking responsibility for what you say and how you say it,” said Krueger.