Anonymous takes on Islamic State and that’s not a good thing

Levi J. West

It’s been a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris and the hacktivist group Anonymous has further expanded its online confrontation with the Islamic State (IS). Its campaign was originally captured under the #OpISIS banner, but is now titled #OpParis.

The initial operation was launched in response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and since then, Anonymous claims to have taken down some 149 IS related websites and 5,900 IS videos.

While on the surface this seems like an overall positive outcome against IS, given its highly regarded and consequential online presence, the reality is much more complex and nuanced. It demonstrates the risks of vigilante style action being undertaken in areas of sensitive national security matters.

When not to take down IS content

Action in this domain, regardless of its quality and the implications, can be seen as inherently beneficial. But an absence of context, proper understanding and incongruent purposes can make the counter efforts of the state more difficult.

When a government is looking at IS content online, the context varies depending on the outcome it seeks to achieve and for the department or agency involved. In a law enforcement context, IS content can be used to form the basis of a search warrant or a control order, or as evidence in a prosecution.

For an intelligence agency, an IS website may prove to be a vital element in ongoing surveillance, or form part of a broader assessment of an individual or a cell’s behaviour.

Beyond this, even the military may make use of IS online content as part of offensive information warfare targeting.

The distinction here is that the mere presence of IS content, while negative in the discreet sense, is part of the broader apparatus that is IS. It is multifaceted and complex, as is the response to it by the agencies of national security.

It is simplistic to think that merely removing IS content from cyberspace is sufficient, or even necessarily positive in the overall sense. There can often be a greater good achieved by leaving certain pieces of content in play.

This greater good is not supported by the interdiction of people unaware of the broader operations of government agencies, flawed and less than perfect as they may be.

For the public’s safety

The purpose for which Anonymous removes IS content is relatively narrow when contrasted with the public protection purposes of the state.

When a government, in collaboration with those companies responsible, removes online content, it is because it has been deemed both detrimental to public safety and security. It’s also because it’s considered that the content does not serve any other additional purposes, such as those mentioned above.

But Anonymous removes IS videos because IS disagrees with, and acts against, free speech. This presents both an ironic contradiction and also a much more self-interested motivation for Anonymous’ actions.

Tolerating vigilante style action by people affiliated with Anonymous would be an easier exercise if they were in some way representative, rather than a self-appointed vanguard, acting in the name of a public good they have determined to be overwhelmingly important.

When things goes wrong

The actions of Anonymous are also undertaken in a publicity-seeking manner. As further details are revealed in relation to #OpParis, it has been demonstrated that some of the personal details hacked and publicised by Anonymous were inaccurate.

While the state is not free of these types of errors, democratic states are at least accountable to some form of electoral and rule-of-law consequences.

In this heightened political and societal environment in the aftermath of a terrorist attacks, when a group such as Anonymous errs in identifying an individual as an IS recruiter or financier, it places those individuals in substantial danger while remaining largely free of consequences.

This is separate from the fact that much of the process of obtaining the data in the first instance is likely criminal.

While the actions of Anonymous in a range of domains, and in relation to many issues, can be seen as an overall positive, there are some very sensible reasons as to why its followers perhaps ought not to play in the national security space.

The takedown of IS content is generally viewed as being of fairly low impact when governments are involved, let alone when a vigilante style organisation adds additional risks of exposing innocent people, and undermining broader efforts to counter IS.

Perhaps most importantly, it does nothing for the people of Syria or Iraq, or those suffering within the controlled territory of IS.

The Conversation

Levi J. West, Lecturer, Terrorism and Security Studies; Program Manager, Masters of Terrorism and Security Studies

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Adele’s new album is not available to stream, but she may be swimming against the tide

Steven Caldwell Brown, University of Edinburgh

Adele has joined Taylor Swift’s ranks in the war against the streaming culture of Spotify and Apple Music. Her latest album, 25, will not be available on these services. A record shop in Tennessee is to open at midnight in anticipation – but I shouldn’t expect any queues.

The timing is auspicious: the Mercury Prize is about to be awarded, an annual prize which crowns the best album of the year released by a British or Irish artist or band. The continuance of such a prize and Adele’s stand against the emphasis on single tracks privileged by streaming calls into question the contemporary relevance of the album format as an artform.

Think about it. When was the last time you listened to an album? Really listened to an album? Perhaps with headphones, not when jogging, or commuting?

At least as far back as 2004, scholars have proposed that music listening is becoming more passive. Certainly, smartphones and streaming services have encouraged a more song-oriented way of music listening, with tech companies keen to develop the latest and greatest new music subscription service. It is also evident that YouTube is a particularly popular way of discovering and listening to music, which also suggests a disconnect from conventional ways of engaging in the album format. Notably, much of the music on YouTube is in breach of copyright.

Sign of the times?
David Molina G/

But a series of studies from Amanda Krause and colleagues directly challenge the notion that streaming means that music fans are becoming more passive. For instance, active use of shuffle and playlist functions was evident. The authors argued that the more control technology affords, the more complex the patterns of music listening. As reported by the Guardian, a quarter of all songs listened to on Spotify are skipped in the first five seconds. So people clearly know what they don’t want to listen to. But does this active interest in music extend to entire albums?

Tech by-product

Despite the appearance that digital music dominates the marketplace, the most recent report from The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reveals that digital and physical revenues are matched. That is, people are still very much engaged in buying physical albums. But which albums are being bought is clearly changing: the top-selling album of the last year was the official soundtrack to Disney’s animated film Frozen.

And the album isn’t as embedded in musical culture as we might think. If we rewind a few generations, it was all about singles. The album format only came along later, exemplified with the concept records of the 1970s. This was not an artistic step forward but merely a result of technological advancements, affording musicians more room to create longer recordings.

So it’s intriguing that with digital music no longer imposing any time-related barriers, new releases still tend to last roughly around as long as they did when music was primarily consumed on CD. Despite an increasing lack of public interest in albums, the industry hasn’t changed its colours. Things do look as though they might be shifting, but this is happening slowly: recent releases from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Smashing Pumpkins (both known for long albums) suggest that musicians themselves are finally buying into the notion that their fans no longer wish to commit to an hour (or more) of auditory indulgence.

But other artists including Radiohead have gone on to release albums after experimenting with the extended player format despite publicly expressing concern over the contemporary relevance of the album. And the Pixies confused fans by bundling songs from three EP’s into their comeback album Indie Cindy. The strategy was seen to be a “craven cash-in”.

Out of date?

So perhaps the album is a lost and meaningless relic of the past. Stephen Witt goes so far as to argue that it is the album format that is killing the music industry – not music piracy. Reflecting on hip-hop in particular, he argues that albums with filler actually encourage piracy. Why pay for a whole album when you only like a few songs?

Legal services such as Spotify now cater for curious music fans, and Witt explains that though consumers are now less likely to pirate music, they are also less likely to buy albums. Recent research highlights that Spotify in fact decreases both legal and illegal downloads. And, the hoo-hah surrounding Adele’s new album suggests that some people have forgotten that music lives in other corners of the internet than just Spotify.

Nevertheless the question marks hanging over the album format are wide-reaching. It has even been proposed that it might be more profitable to release songs than albums.

But although the album format appears to be in crisis, it has appeared this way for over a decade. With the increasing popularity of playlists, it may be that people are strapping in for a different type of long haul, or that the criteria of a “good album” now varies.

If there has been any major shift it has been the emphasis on live concerts rather than recorded music, with established musicians happy to give their albums away for free – this is an effective way of promoting live concert attendance, where most musicians now make most of their earnings.

In any case, it is likely that musicians will continue to create albums and consumers will continue to listen to them simply because that is what was established many years ago. They will also continue to be celebrated with industry awards. And though the artists shortlisted in the Mercury Music Prize are likely to receive a boost in popularity, it will be Adele’s new album which will dominate, particularly considering her dismissal of streaming culture.

The Conversation

Steven Caldwell Brown, Teaching Fellow in Social Psychology, University of Edinburgh

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.