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E-Bandits in Global Activism: WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and the Politics of No One

  • Wendy H. Wong (a1) and Peter A. Brown (a1)

In recent years, WikiLeaks and Anonymous have made headlines distributing confidential information, defacing websites, and generating protest around political issues. Although many have dismissed these actors as terrorists, criminals, and troublemakers, we argue that such actors are emblematic of a new kind of political actor: extraordinary bandits (e-bandits) that engage in the politics of no one via anonymizing Internet technologies. Building on Hobsbawm's idea of the social bandit, we show how these actors fundamentally change the terms of global activism. First, as political actors, e-bandits are akin to Robin Hood, resisting the powers that be who threaten the desire to keep the Internet free, not through lobbying legislators, but by “taking” what has been deemed off limits. Second, e-banditry forces us to think about how technology changes “ordinary” transnational activism. Iconic images of street protests and massive marches often underlie the way we as scholars think about social movements and citizen action; they are ordinary ways we expect non-state actors to behave when they demand political change. E-bandits force us to understand political protest as virtual missives and actions, activity that leaves no physical traces but that has real-world consequences, as when home phone numbers and addresses of public officials are released. Finally, e-banditry is relatively open in terms of who participates, which contributes to the growing sense that activism has outgrown organizations as the way by which individuals connect. We illustrate our theory with the actions of two e-bandits, Anonymous and WikiLeaks.

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