The idea that the uproar following the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin would result in a cyber attack would perhaps not be immediately obvious; street protests and riots were of course to be expected, but in the modern world, social activism has as much of a place online as it does on the streets.
It appears that Anonymous, arguably the most prolific of all hacktivist groups, targeted the websites of the Minneapolis Police Department and the City of Minneapolis in retaliation for Floyd’s murder, with both websites being inaccessible by late May 30. Both websites were still experiencing problems early on May 31, sporadically requiring visitors to enter “captchas” verifying they weren’t bots in a front-end hosted by internet security firm Cloudflare — a signal the sites were experiencing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, designed to render an internet service unusable by flooding it with bogus traffic.
The disruption to the Minneapolis municipal sites came after a Facebook page claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous released a video on May 28 which has now been viewed over 1.8 million times, and features a figure wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and an electronically altered voiceover, both common features of the group’s multimedia.
The full statement of the video reads: “Officers who kill people and commit other crimes need to be held accountable just like the rest of us. Otherwise, they will believe that they have a license to do whatever they want. People have had enough of this corruption and violence from an organization that promises to keep them safe. After the events of the past few years, many people are beginning to learn that you are not here to save us but rather you are here to oppress us and carry out the will of the criminal ruling class. You are here to keep order for the people in control, not to provide safety for the people who are controlled. In fact, you are the very mechanism that elites use to continue their global system of oppression. These officers must face criminal charges and officer Chauvin especially should face murder charges. Unfortunately, we do not trust your corrupt organization to carry out justice so will be exposing your many crimes to the world. We are legion. Expect us.”
This is not the first instance of Anonymous using its cyber attack capabilities to further social causes; in 2016, the group publicly declared its support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and earlier in 2014 leaked police recordings and the names of suspects after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was unlawfully murdered by police officer Darren Wilson.
Cyber attacks to further social causes will undoubtedly become a staple part of activism and protests; indeed, they may even take precedence over street activism, since more harm can perhaps now be done online than by physically disrupting city streets. Yet one may also wonder if Anonymous and groups of its kind – which almost always seem to have a left-wing standpoints – might consider using its demonstrably effective resources to target injustice elsewhere in the world. The West, despite being far from a perfect place (with America having a plethora of problems of its own related to justice, freedom and equality, problems that should not necessarily be pinned on Europe and other Western countries), is still the most fair system of societies the world has to offer. Perhaps Anonymous should function more like the governments it claims to hate, and think of a foreign policy – after all, if the death of George Floyd deserves a response, so does China’s increasingly ill-treatment of black people living in its country, or the suspicious deaths of doctors in Russia who have criticised the Kremlin’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains to be seen whether the group’s outrage and burning desire for social justice will extend to foreign borders: perhaps – it is still, in the grand scheme of the world, rather a new organisation protesting in rather a new way. Or perhaps not; after all, unlike when activists hit out at the American government, aggressively attacking Moscow or Beijing can have rather more unpleasant and tangible consequences.