'Anonymous' hactivists attack Zimbabwe

No, it didn't go after Mugabe or injustice, just those stopping WikiLeaks

If there's one thing wrong with vigilantes and mob justice, it's that mobs get bored quickly.

The hactivist group Anonymous has chosen another target -- not a WikiLeaks-opposing corporation or government group this time, but an entire country.

On Friday Anonymous announced its disapproval of the government of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe by defacing the web sites of the Finance Ministry and DDOSing sites belonging to Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

Interesting as it would be to have the Operation Avenge Assange attack spread to include corrupt governments and elected leaders who refuse to give up power after wasting their country's resources and being resoundingly voted out of office by angry constituents, this time it ain't so.

The proximate cause of the attacks was the effort by Mugabe's government to prevent local media from publishing information from secret U.S. State Dept. cables.

Mugabe's wife hit one local paper with a $15 million lawsuit for publishing information from the cables accusing her of profiting from the sale of illegal diamonds.

Another set of cables could get the country's premier tried and executed for treason following revelations he met with ambassadors from U.S. and European countries to discuss sanctions to put pressure on the president.

The premier, Morgan Tsvangirai, leads opposition to the brutal, 30-year rule of Mugabe. He has been arrested, survived assassination attempts including being thrown from a 10th floor office window, been arrested, beaten and tortured.

Despite apparently winning a runoff election in 2008, Tsvangirai had to settle for becoming premier when Mugabe refused to leave office and there were several more attempts on Tsvangirai's life, one of which killed his wife of 31 years.

Mugabe's rule has resulted in a country that is one of the most economically distraught in Africa, with an unemployment rate above 90 percent and health-and-hygiene infrastructure so poor a 2009 cholera epidemic struck 100,000 and killed more than 4,300.

The attacks themselves were less focused and less effective than those against Visa, PayPal and others, but did have funnier pictures.

Too bad they didn't have more behind them than that. Not that anyone would expect them to. Hactivism tends to limit itself to hacker interests and hacker principles, and let the meatspace world fend for itself.

Having Anonymous step up to protest things other than its members' ability to view secret content or midget porn would be a step toward legitimacy what would enhance its standing as the organization with the best protest-group name since the British Industrial-Revolution opposition group "Kill the Bastards" or 1890's-era New York anarchist bomb-throwing group "AAARRRGGGGHHH" (which was very short-lived because anarchists were too disorganized to braid long enough fuses or work out enough to be able to throw those cartoony cannonball-looking bombs very far).

We live in an age of specialization, I suppose, so we'll just have to expect Anonymous to pop off only on conflicts within its specialty -- censorship and secrecy -- which are, don't get me wrong, critically important and getting more so. We'll just have to leave it to the old-school groups to deal with issues involving starvation, injustice and death.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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