Tricksters, 50 Days of Lulz, Effecting Change.

On June 26th, LulzSec faded back into the woodwork, ending their hacktivity with “50 days of lulz,” in which they leaked internal data from AOL, AT&T, the FBI, gaming forums, NATO bookshop, and navy.mil, among others. The leak marked the end of the Lulz Boat’s “planned 50 day cruise,” leaving its 6-member crew to “now sail into the distance, leaving behind–we hope–inspiration, fear, denial, happiness, approval, disapproval, mockery, embarrassment, thoughtfulness, jealousy, hate, even love. If anything, we hope we had a microscopic impact on someone, somewhere.  Anywhere” (LulzSec).

This begs the question I’ve been dodging forever: does spectacle, ultimately, constitute impact? What did X, Y, or Z actually do? Apart from gathering numerous followers, supporters, and participants, LulzSec’s antics have impacted the way organizations view cybersecurity, drawing statements from NATO and prompting the Obama administration to propose stricter anti-hacking laws. (This is one year after the Australian government proposed that DDoS and script hacks be termed “cyber-terrorism” following Operation Titstorm, so that their import could be easily recognized. Notably, these attacks were performed in response to ISP-level censoring measures proposed by the government that year.)

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I co-authored and co-presented ““We are Sri Lankan civilians plz save our life”: Photography and the spectacle of Sri Lanka’s civil war” with my sister, Anjali Manivannan, a human rights activist pursuing a law degree at NYU, on war photography, spectacle, and the Sri Lankan civil war. I handled the material on photography while she addressed the legal perspective. I was exhausted and unwell for most of the conference, but our presentation was solid, and our Q&A was marked by big questions about journalism, ethics, and the politics of the image in the context of mediating stories that, because they are so awful, may discourage even the very act of looking.

If you’re interested in the human rights law perspective, you can follow my sister at @Anji_Manivannan (JD as of 2014!).