Hacktivism as a term originated in 1996 (Casserly). Hacktivism is similar to real life activism. A “normal” activist or a group of activists advocates for some sort of change through protests, sit-ins, and other typically nonviolent mean. Hacktivists, on the other hand, perform this kind of work online through digital means. These sections examine hacktivism and hacktivists in order to provide a more in-depth understanding.


  1. What is “hacktivism”?
  2. Who are “hacktivists”?
  3. The Power of Technology
  4. Hacktivism/Hacktivists’ Role in Digital Rhetoric
  5. Timeline: The Evolution of Hacktivism


Hacktivism can be defined as “the nonviolent use for political ends of ‘illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools’ like website defacements, information theft, website parodies, [denial of service] attacks, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage” (Hampson 514). In simpler terms, it’s possible for hacktivism to be considered the online version of real life protests. That’s because hacktivism is performed “to achieve a social or political goal” (Hampson 515).

Because hacktivism is so complex, it can be difficult for organization and the government to respond accordingly to hacktivist related events. For that reason, it is important that if any legal action is taken because of a hacktivist related event, the “response should include inter-nation coordination that draws on widely accepted democratic principles of free speech” (Hampson 514). This is important because hacktivist related events have resulted in serious results for the organizations that are under attack.

While hacktivism is performed as a demonstration, hacktivism can create harm for the individuals and/or organizations that are the target of the hacktivists’ attack. Not all hacktivists or hacktivist groups are the same, meaning they don’t perform in the same ways or for the same reasons. Events that are hacktivistic are harmful to organizations and/or individuals because they occur inconsistently; it is nearly impossible to be prepared and to be less vulnerable. However, in order to decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of hacktivists, an organization can leverage their staff as firewall (Rose). If the staff prioritises their efforts to focus on their key information and applies these efforts methodically, then perhaps they will be less prone to an act of hacktivism (Rose).

From time to time, “hacking” and “hacktivism” are confused, making it all the more difficult to understand what exactly hacktivism is. Clarifying the distinction between hacking and hacktivism is not incredibly easy because hacktivism has roots in hacking. Although that is the case, hacking is best described as accessing unauthorized data for one’s self-interest. Hacktivism is the act of exposing that unauthorized data “to achieve a social or political goal” (Hampson 515). The similarities between the two terms are clear, but it’s more difficult to clarify the differences between hacking and hacktivism.


There are all sorts of hacktivists who behave and perform in different ways. Some hacktivists or groups of hacktivists do not take as many measures—nor measures that are as intense—as others. A hacktivist intends to create publicity in order to spread information (Hampson 515). Hacktivists utilize the Internet—and all of its different assets—in order to promote a certain political agenda or to protest.

The most well known group of hacktivists is arguably the group known as Anonymous. Anonymous has not only garnered a reputation for themselves, but they’ve made a name for hacktivism and hacktivists everywhere. To many people, hacktivism is a bad ideology that should not be performed whereas hacktvisits groups, like Anonymous, believe that hacktivism is a good thing.

In the documentary We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists, filmmakers illustrate the the strikingly different opinions about hacktivists, especially Anonymous. Filmmakers interview some individuals who claim that Anonymous as a “cyber terrorist group of bigots,” “a group that “want[s] to prove a point,” and “a big strong kid with a low self-esteem” (“We Are Legion … FULL MOVIE.”). These descriptions reflect the harm that hacktivism can create for the victims of the hacktivistic attack.

While hacktivism may present some issues, hacktivists do not see their performances of hacktivism as a problem at all. According to We Are Legion, hacktivists, like Anonymous, believe they are exercising their right to freedom of speech. They advocate for freedom of speech and no censorship. To a hacktivist, he or she may believe that he or she is doing something positive by bringing an issue to light through hacktivism, so that other people begin to recognize and want to change the problem.

There are all sorts of mixed opinions about hacktivists and about whether or not hacktivism is good or bad. While there are some bad results of hacktivism, that is not what hacktivism is all about; in it is most basic form, hacktivism is about performing nonviolent acts to achieve a certain social or political goal.

Below is a trailer for the documentary.


According to the FBI, “cybercrime is the most significant criminal threat facing the United States” (Hampson 516). With the Internet constantly expanding and its features continuously improving, hacktivism progresses just as quickly as well. The reason for that is because there are more methods and tools hacktivists can utilize in order to promote their political agenda.

There are all sorts of methods and tools that hacktivists frequently used, including redirects, site defacements, virtual sit-ins, and denial of service (DoS). Below these four methods/tools are explained:


Redirects are as clear as it sounds. This type of hacktivism is used to (literally) redirect users to a site different than the site the users are intending to look at (Hampson 520).


Site defacements “involve obtaining unauthorized access to a web server and either replacing or altering a web page with new content that conveys a particular message” (Hampson 519). This form of hacktivisim is perhaps the most popular form. Using this method does not limit a hacktivist to targeting one website; a hacktivist can target multiple websites—hundreds if he or she would like—at once. Although the name suggests that this form does not damage the website(s); hacktivists use this method merely to show their technical expertise.


While virtual sit-ins share commonalities with DoS. The biggest difference is that virtual sit-ins require individual hacktivists to reload the webpage. In some cases, the hacktivists has to manually reload the webpage, but sometimes hacktivists can download software that automatically reloads the webpage for them.


DoS is a frequent form of hacktivism that’s utilized by hacktivists. DoS attacks “involve attempts to block access to websites by any of several means” (Hampson 517). This form of hacktivism slows down access to the server in charge of the website or prevent access to it entirely. Depending on the software, beginners can even engage in the attack. For example, in the 2010 hacktivist attack against WikiLeaks, Anonymous used the software called Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC). LOIC allows users to participate in two different ways: (1) “directly, by entering the target IP address and clicking ‘fire’” or (2) “alternatively, by volunteering their computer or network to the so-called ‘LOIC Hivemind,’” which allows others to create direct attacks from the surrendered server (Hampson 519).


A really important tool that aids hacktivists tremendously is social media because it is a quick, compelling way to reach numerous types of audiences. Anonymous proved how powerful social media can be in hacktivism during periods of social unrest. During the immediate days following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, Anonymous took action on Twitter. Anonymous posted photos of the St. Louis County Police Chief and his family on their Twitter account, threatening to “wage a war” (Bever). Anonymous used Twitter as a way to promote their political agenda. In a press release, Anonymous made it clear that they were unhappy with how Ferguson and Missouri government was reacting to Brown’s death and the protestors.


Hacktivism/hacktivists play a significant role in terms of digital rhetoric. To understand digital rhetoric, one must understand “rhetoric.” Rhetoric can be defined as “the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people” (Merriam-Webster). Digital rhetoric is the act of using these skills for the same reasons through digital means.

Hacktivism is performed as a way to promote a political agenda or to protest an issue. The spread of information is done to convince the hacktivist’s audience that they dislike what they are doing or to convince their audience that what a particular organization is doing is wrong. This is crucial in digital rhetoric because it’s a tool used while reflecting the basic, fundamental ideas of digital rhetoric—persuading or influencing an audience.


The following is a timeline showcasing the evolution of hacktivism by highlighting hacktivistic events, laws that have emerged because of hacktivism/hacktivists, and even groups or people who have influenced hacktivism.

  • October 1989 – NASA and the U.S. Energy Department Computers Attacked by an anti-nuclear “WANK” worm (McCormick)
  • November 1994 – Intervasion of the UK (McCormick)
  • Communications Decency Act of 1996 (Hampson 515)
  • July 2001 – “Hacktivismo Declaration” is coined by the hacktivst group called Hacktivismo (McCormick)
  • October 2003 – Christopher Poole created 4chan.org (McCormick)
  • November 2010 – Anonymous launch “#OpTunisia,” to attack Tunisian government (McCormick)
  • November 2010 – Anonymous attack WikiLeaks (Hampson 511)
  • August 2014 – Anonymous attacks St. Louis Police Chief & Government because of social unrest in Ferguson, MO.


Bever, Lindsey. “Amid Ferguson Protests, Hacker Collective Anonymous Wages Cyberwar.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.

Casserly, Martyn. “What Is Hacktivism? A Short History of Anonymous, Lulzsec and the Arab Spring.” PC Advisor News RSS. PC Advisor News, 03 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

Hampson, Noah C.N. “Hacktivism: A New Breed of Protest in a Networked World.” B.C. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev., 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

McCormick, Ty. “Hacktivism: A Short History.” Foreign Policy. N.p., 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.

Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 12 April 2015.

Rose, Andrew. “Hacktivism: How Worried Should Organisations Be?” TheGuardian.com. The Guardian, 27 June 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.

“We Are Legion – The Story of the Hacktivists FULL MOVIE.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zwDhoXpk90


Identification and Hacktivism

In Chapter 6 of Rhetoric Online: The Politics of New Media, many things struck me as intriguing and as very significant to digital rhetoric. Near the beginning of the chapter, Barbara Warnick and David S. Heineman discuss expert Kenneth Burke’s ideas about rhetoric, specifically identification. The authors reference how Burke emphasizes that “identification entails ‘changing a thing’s nature'”, which is why it is important to pay close attention to more than just the speech or written word. That’s because there are lots of other factors that influence a rhetor’s audience; this definitely plays a role in digital rhetoric because not everything is face-to-face. Also, visuals and other aspects of digital technology greatly affect an audience. For these reasons, I really enjoyed the references to Burke.

In Chapter 7, Warnick and Heineman explain hacktivism and highlight examples. This topic really interests me because that is the term I am writing about in my RTI. Although the information the authors provide about hacktivism is really helpful, I do have a question. The chapter discusses how hacktivism can be a form of protest. One question I have is: since these forms of protests are performed online, how do the reactions (particularly the reactions of the government since that tends to be a target or a focus in many ways) to hacktivistic protests differ from real life protests? Are they considered completely different? Can they be dealt with the same, and should they? The same sort of intentions behind these acts of protests as well as the goals may be similar to real life forms of protests, but they are strikingly different because the mediums and methods vary.

Earlier in the semester, I did some research for my annotated bibliography about “hacktivism” and “hacktivists.” I came across the film We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, which provides lots of great information about hacktivists through the narrative of hacktivist group Anonymous. I embedded this short clip from the film below because I think it touches on how powerful hacktivists can be and provides a nice glimpse as to what hacktivism is.

My Stages of Invention

My first stage of invention looks very different, depending on lots of various things: why I’m doing and what or who I’m working with. For example, if I’m experimenting with a new tool that I’m not familiar with (i.e. an app or an actual device) sometimes I literally just start messing with its features to see how it operates. When I first got my MacBook Pro, I was very curious about all of its features, so I dove right in and began playing with my laptop. I played with various apps to see how they functioned, I surfed the Internet to see how it differed on a Mac, and so on.

For me, sometimes I just have to work with the object on my own and experience its functions firsthand. That may not seem like a great idea. Shouldn’t I read the directions or do research? Both of these actions are great–and I actually start there with my inventions–but there are occasions when I really need to just start with a fresh mind, a new slate. Learning from others or reading suggestions/steps is where I do start sometimes, depending on the object, tool, or idea I’m working with. When it comes to inventing a paper or doing a project, I usually go to others’ works to generate my own ideas. Getting tips or learning more about the subject can help me understand how I can invent something uniquely my own.

Keeping Up With the Technology

In Arroyo’s video, I really enjoyed how they talked about the action of “swiping” has changed, and will continue to change, the way humans act with technology. I really liked all the different connects she made between the use of iPads and normal body functions (i.e. “swiping” –> erasing). For me, iPads are more difficult to use than a desktop. Perhaps that’s because I grew up using desktops (or even laptops), causing my understanding and familiarity with iPads to be much more limited. Writing long pieces of text, such as a paper, or certain apps are much more difficult on an iPad than a desktop. Personally I feel as though I have more control of my work on a desktop or laptop than I do on an iPad because on an iPad my finger is in control of everything.

Another very intriguing part of Arroyo’s video is the discussion of “symbiotic relationships,” which is about the relationship between writing, the body, and performative platforms. This really connected with me because I feel as though this is what we’re doing with our video projects for Cardinal Hill. We have our plans and writing, but we also have to work with the physical aspects of filming, editing, meeting with people, and so on (the body aspect). Then, there is the performative platform, which I believe is made up not only of the physical area we film on but also the platform we present the final video to the works of Cardinal Hill as well as the platform/medium that we use to create this video. In our case, the platform or medium is iMovie.

The video made by Carter is also a useful source. He explains lots of different ideas and tips for making projects similar to the ones we’re making for Cardinal Hill. One thing that I think is important to keep in mind when filming and editing our footage we should discuss what footage is good and what footage isn’t worth keeping. We all worked on this footage together, so it’s important that we don’t just get rid of some it without going over it with the group in order to ensure whether or not it can actually be used in the video. One of our partner’s might have an amazing way to add that short clip into the final video and maybe even combine it with some audio. This reminds me of how Carter mentions that he’s aware his footage and projects might be deleted by his daughter.

Memory’s Role in Rhetoric

After reading the two texts, I gained a deeper understanding of memory as well as its role in rhetoric, especially digital rhetoric. In the article written by Christian Smith, I’m very intrigued by the questions at the very beginning of the text. Smith refers to questions that a keynote speaker named Anne Frances Wysocki used in a speech about memory. The questions definitely sparked me to think about memory, its relation to rhetoric/digital rhetoric, and how I use memory. Personally, I tend to use memory with my academics; I memorize the material I learn in my classes so that I can not only use it on my exams and papers but be able to have that information in the future in the “real world” or in my career. However, I do use memory in more basic and day-to-day activities. I memorize routes to and from destinations, whether that’s intentional or unintentional; this action reminded me of the example Smith referred to in Wysocki’s speech about how an ancient Greek poet used memorization in a “real life” situation.

Over the course of my life, my memory practices have altered altogether or simply improved based on the situation. For example, I’ve improved my memorization in my classes, particularly my Spanish classes. A mnemonic may be useful or even something as goofy as a song could help me remember/memorize information. I’m also a very visual person, so charts, images, or anything of that nature really help me. Some memorization tactics have failed while others have proven to be useful when it comes to memorizing vocabulary words, grammar rules, and so on. In some cases, I’ve completely dropped a memorization tactic because it didn’t work at all or simply tweaked the method so that it would work more efficiently.

What I’ve Learned About “Rhetoric Online”

Before reading chapters 3-5 of Rhetoric Online by Warnick and Heineman, I hadn’t heard of several of the terms they examine. I was very enthusiastic to learn more about them and how these terms or ideas played a role in digital rhetoric. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was how ambiguous some of these terms are; many of these terms have been discussed and argued about for quite a long time. In a lot instances, a term may not have one concise and solid definition. “Interactivity” is one of these terms.

In chapter three, the authors refer to a few other experts, highlighting their understanding of what interactivity is and its functions in rhetoric—specifically digital rhetoric. Reading these different viewpoints raised as many questions as it established answers. I eventually concluded that in its most basic form online interactivity is the interactions and connections that online users have with one another; it’s a mode of communication for Internet users.

Another term that is highly debated is “intertextuality.” Although it’s a very complex and even confusing term, it’s one that many people are very familiar with whether they realize it or not. For example, there are numerous cases of spoofs and parodies of significant events and/or issues—think SNL skits. A popular aspect of SNL is that there are skits in which the cast makes a joke out of political issues or political leaders. However, everyone may not understand these jokes because it’s important to understand that the jokes are only extremely hilarious to those who are very familiar with the issue or figure the cast is covering. For someone who isn’t familiar with U.S. politics of a certain decade, for example, then he/she may not understand the jokes that are made in that particular SNL skit.

Here is a short clip of an SNL skit, if you’d like to watch to get a better look at what I’m talking about. In this clip, two SNL actors pretend to be Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The two recreate the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate.

Online interactivity is something that I am very familiar with, even though I didn’t recognize it as this until I began reading Warnick and Heineman’s work in Rhetoric Online. In fact, I am doing it right at this very instance! How so? I am writing my thoughts and understandings on a subject with the intention of it posting it on a blog so that it will reach others online. Then, perhaps it will spark someone to comment on it, initiating a back-and-forth conversation. What I have really enjoyed about reading this text is that I’ve learned about some concepts that I was familiar with. Now I’ve had the chance to actually learn about the concepts in a formal context, which helps me to be able to act them out on my own more successfully.

The Digital Public

After reading the text, I would define a “digital public” as a sphere in which individuals come together to discuss, identify, examine, and possibly even debate problems that are occurring in society on the Internet rather than doing so face-to-face. When individuals are online, they can feel as though they’re a part of the public spheres in lots of ways. For example, they can join networks and/or social media sights that connect them with others from across the globe, like Tumblr. On Tumblr, they can post freely, submitting blog posts about ideas, situations, crises, and so on. It’s possible for individuals to reply and to reblog these posts, which creates more interacting publicly.

However, there are cases in which people participate online without wanting to a be part of the public or public sphere. A good example, I think, is when people make a Facebook account. Generally individuals make a Facebook account to interact with others but only a limited amount and certain type of people. They choose who they want to interact with by friending certain people and accepting requests from particular people. Also, they select settings that restrict what other people see on their profile, even the individuals they’re friends with. For instance, you can hide your birthday to the public and your friends too, make it so that the public cannot click on any of your photos (including your profile picture), and more. Profiles can be made completely private, limiting who sees what on your profile.

Reading this text has helped me believe it is important to differentiate the “digital public” from the “digital community.” From my understanding, a digital community can be limited to certain people or groups, which relates to the idea of private or public Facebook profile. On the other hand, a digital public encompasses all the digital communities because it is the process and idea of digitally discussing/debating/sharing the information within the public sphere.