Finally, China became the newest item on Anonymous’ list of targets. Yesterday, several Chinese government websites and more than four hundred websites were hacked by international hacktivists, announced by a new handle @AnonymousChina on twitter. Many of these websites have been restored, but a few are still down, showing error messages and a couple of them show a message from Anon calling for action against the Chinese government. These attacks were to protest against the Chinese government’s control of the Internet and its suppression of its citizens’ freedom of speech.
Over the years of its “operation,” if anything, Anon is known to be good at creating excitement in our psyche. And they did it again. The news of its attack on the Chinese government, one of the most notorious censors in the world, surely has excited many freedom lovers, Chinese or not, especially as this happened just a few days after the government’s crack down on websites and the blockage of weibo comments in China. Does this mean that Anon has officially declared war on the Chinese government? How much will their hacktivism impact the Internet in China? Will this become the beginning of a larger social movement?
Don’t get to excited. At this point, I do not see that Anon will have major impact on loosening the Chinese government’s grip on the Internet, nor will it effectively mobilize the Chinese public. And here are my reasons:
On the list that Anon published on pastebin.com, the websites under attack are mostly websites of private businesses. Only a few government websites are on the list, all of them for local governments. The list does not have a single website of a big transnational company (and the group is advocating a “global revolution”) or the central government.
This means, the impact of these attacks is no comparison with that of the attacks on the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, Universal Music, and MPAA in protest against SOPA and PIPA earlier this year. Actually, I doubt the government websites Anon attacked have much traffic to begin with since they’re mostly government websites on the city level.
Perhaps that’s why Anon chose to attack the hundreds of non-governmental websites as well. In fact, in Anon’s webchat on #GlobalREvolution, a participant (unclear if s/he is affiliated with Anon) pointed out that attacking those websites was to “spread the word.” If that was Anon’s intension, it didn’t pick the best targets because most of them seem to be of some obscure IT companies.
More importantly, the “word” Anon is trying to spread really doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t know. There’s no need for anyone to tell Chinese, living in China or overseas, that our freedom of speech is suppressed, because we are living it. In fact, Chinese have been expressing their discontent with the government’s Internet restriction and censoring. Chinese netizens’ reaction to the statement by Hong Lei, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can well evidence this. Hong said during a press conference yesterday that “the Internet in China is open, and netizens enjoy tremendous freedom… The Chinese government regulates the Internet according to the laws.” Thousands of Chinese commented on various weibo sites, expressing their disgust with the government’s hypocrisy (“Blocking comments, identity verification, we are indeed free”).
So why haven’t Chinese risen up and done something to change? That’s because the Internet is only one place of control. There’s stops and frisks, there’s secret imprisonment, there’s forced eviction, and there’s suppression of unionization of workers… The Chinese government’s control over its citizens is a complex system that reaches various aspects of citizens’ lives on multiple levels and in myriad forms. To mobilize Chinese to take action, if we want to entertain this idea for a second, the Internet is not the only battleground, but it is THE battleground of Anon.
In fact, despite censorship, the Internet the most open space in China and it has been serving as a place for information dissemination, deliberation, and expression that hosts public opinions. However, as the example of Guangzhou’s stops and frisks has shown, in a police state, public opinion hardly has the power that required for change. As Anon and its supporters are raving their victories on Twitter, I’m not sure by taking down a few websites in China, Anon can start a revolution in China as the hashtag #GlobalRevolution suggests.
In the end, Anon’s action has created more of a fantastic image than any actual effects in China. Anon certainly has taken advantage of the sensation-seeking Western media’s obsession with the group and with China’s human rights issues and made a loud noise. I’m not sure, however, how long this sensation can last. Besides, most Chinese governmental websites are so poorly designed and of little use (except for showing off the government’ “good work”) that they do not even need to be hacked to be malfunctioning. As @AnonymousChina tweeted, “cdcbd.gov.cn qnwqdj.gov.cn bbdj.gov.cn redefaced lol your security still suck…” You know what? Maybe that’s because they don’t care about it that much.