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Is Anonymous vetting presidential candidates?

April 17, 2012

Anonymous Hispano's announcement on Twitter

Anonymous Hispano, the Spanish-speaking branch of the famous hacker collective, issued a statement a few weeks ago announcing that, despite their efforts, they “could not find any evidence of corruption” to incriminate the Mexican presidential candidate López Obrador. The group prefaced their message by clarifying that they “do not have any partisan agenda and do not support any one” of the candidates. The message ended with an invitation to followers to send evidence of corruption; a second tweet quickly followed, inviting the public to submit evidence of corruption of any candidate, suggesting specific hashtags for each of them.

The newspaper El Economista spoke with collective members and reported that Anonymous Hispano acknowledged having hacked into López’s financial accounts without finding any transactions that would indicate wrong-doing:

[T]the collective broke into the computer systems linked to payments or any kind of money transactions, or political influence, stored in the digital files of AMLO [the candidate's initials] and his colleagues, and found nothing incriminating him, so the collective is still looking.

The statement received a fair amount of attention beyond the Twitter-sphere, reaching influential political blogsReddit, and mainstream news media.

Beyond the supposed lack of evidence against this particular politician, or whether Anonymous actually hacked into his accounts, there are a few aspects of this story that I find particularly interesting.

First, the coverage of Anonymous’s evidence-free statement might indicate a substantial amount of symbolic capital accumulated by this group. For example, they could have released evidence of their breaking into the candidate’s accounts; however, they confined themselves to a statement on Twitter. In the sciences, negative results are almost never reported, and more generally, the lack of evidence for something does not prove or disprove anything. So why did they get media coverage? One possible explanation is that Anonymous, after a long (by Internet standards) history of hacktivism, has accumulated the necessary credibility to pull this off. Do they have enough symbolic capital to achieve this in a country with stronger institutions? What would have happened if they had issued a similar statement about a US presidential candidate?

Second, an obvious question: why this candidate? One possible answer is that this could be a means to publicly vet and, in a way, endorse this candidate by using their tools at their disposal. It is hard to know if there a direct link between Anonymous Hispano and the rest of Anonymous, but it would be interesting to see if this signals a direct incursion on mainstream politics in the future.

Third, does this represent a move from public shaming to public endorsement? For the most part, Anonymous hacktivism has focused on public shaming by “doxing” government officials and corporations. I think this might be the first time Anonymous has changed their method, resembling a role more common to governmental transparency organizations. It was interesting that none of the reactions I read raised any questions about the ethics of hacking into politicians’ accounts.

One thing is clear to me: traditional institutions need to figure out how to grapple with Anonymous, or collectives inspired by them, as their presence and political power is only going to increase in the future.

Cross posted at Culture Digitally.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 17, 2012 2:39 pm

    Thanks Andrés. You document such an interesting moment. The change in strategy is pronounced and does seem to reflect a newfound confidence on the part of Anonymous. What intrigues me, however, is the degree to which traditional organizations ARE grappling with Anonymous/Crypto assemblages in order to–as has been the case throughout the history of secrecy–endorse or discredit various entities. The recent Sabu episode and the post-infiltration activities of LulzSec come to mind.

    I’m reminded of Peter Galison’s 2004 invocation of Pynchon:

    “Back in 1966 when Thomas Pynchon published his great Crying of Lot
    49, he sketched a paranoid and disjointed society, a universe so obsessed
    with concealment and conspiracy, with government and corporate monopoly control of information, that the causal structure and even the raw
    sequence of events hovered perpetually out of reach. Now that the secret
    world has begun to exceed the open one, Pynchon’s fantasy stands ever
    nearer to hand.”

    http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/bios/docs/Removing%20Knowledge.pdf

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