In the post-9/11 era the term “terrorism” has become fraught with political baggage. I’ll not rehash history here, but suffice it to say that a lot of bad policy and dumb actions have been justified by combatting supposed “terrorism.”
But the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment by people who at least appear to be acting in the interest of North Korea’s cruel regime is what terrorism looks like. It meets the literal definition of the word, which is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”
So far the story – which has now culminated in the canceling of The Interview, a Seth Rogen film which mocks the North Korean government drawing the ire of the hackers – has gotten the most coverage from the celebrity gossip reporters. The emails released documenting the petty internal politics of the movie industry have been a treasure trove for that sort of journalist, but the larger story is much more serious.
We have terrorists, possibly working at the behest of the North Korean government, instituting censorship through fear. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole – we’re talking about the release of what is probably a crummy movie, not people dying or anything – yet that’s exactly what it is.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony said in a press release sent out today. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”
You really can’t blame Sony or the theaters for not wanting to put their employees and customers at risk by releasing the film in the face of threats. This is something of an unprecedented situation, and they’d be foolish not to take it seriously.
But this requires a response. We can’t let fear infringe upon our liberty, can we? Will we allow ourselves to be censored by terrorists (even if the target of said censorship is what appears to be yet another crappy, low-brow comedy?).
This problem goes far beyond the situation with Sony. For some time now groups like Anonymous and others have used hacked access to personal information to wound their enemies and advance their political agenda.
Anonymous, for instance, threatened to “dox” (or release private personal information about) the daughter of the Chief of Police in Ferguson because they were upset about the police department’s handling of the Michael Brown shooting. The group eventually backed off, but in the Steubenville rape case another hacker group used doxing to hurt people they felt were involved including minors and people who weren’t actually involved.
Some people call this activism, or “hactivism,” but is it?
It sure looks more like terrorism.
Two keys to a vibrant democracy is participation and free dissent. But digital brownshirts looking to get their way through fear and intimidation has nothing to do with it.
Yet these people are enabled by the media. Anonymous has been embraced by the media as a sort of legitimate political movement. Reporters gleefully pick up on leaked information (look at all the attention given to the Sony email leaks), which is exactly what the hackers want.
I believe in transparency and accountability. But I also don’t believe we should be held hostage by these anarchists who violate our privacy.
I’m not sure what can be done – the government itself has breached the public’s trust with their own forays into our private digital lives through the NSA, etc. – but something should be done. Because this cannot be tolerated.