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Anonymous vs ISIS: Vigilante justice in the War against Terrorism
Stefan Morrone   Nov 24, 2015   Ethical Technology  

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind centred around the terrorist group knows as the Islamic State.  First, several attacks in Paris left 129 dead and countless others injured, then a bomb threat in Germany and a threat by ISIS to attack the rest of Europe and Washington, D.C. Fear grips the hearts of people around the world in an iron vice. And that is exactly what ISIS wants.  Right now, they are winning.

In the wake of these events, world leaders sit on standby debating what should be done and how to respond.  Unfortunately, the only thing that has been done is extremely ineffective. Countries have continued to bomb ISIS, which, as has been the case for awhile, has accomplished nothing except make them more determined to destroy the West.

Among the chaos of these strenuous two weeks, two major news headlines stood out to me.  The first was Vladimir Putin effectively declaring war on the Islamic State and vowing to hunt down and kill the terrorists who destroyed a Russian aircraft with a bomb in late October.  This thrilled me because Putin is, in my eyes, the only world leader who has demonstrated the will to stop talking and act. In addition, at the G20 conference, Putin presented evidence of G20 member states that are providing financial support to ISIS in front of everyone. 

This is another example of his bullish nature and his determination to go after ISIS. Putin is renowned for his seriousness, and when he says he will accomplish something, he does not stop until it is done.  I fully support his decision to use the full might of the Russian army to find who is responsible and make an example of them. Standing tall and taking aggressive action is what should be done, unlike most of the other leaders.

But I digress. What I would truly like to discuss is the second news announcement. Following the Paris attacks, the internet group Anonymous proceeded to declare war on ISIS.  They threatened the terrorist group with massive cyber attacks and said they would find the terrorists and out them. Since this announcement, they have taken down thousands of ISIS-related Twitter accounts.

This might not seem like much, but, in my opinion, it’s one of the most important news stories since the attacks themselves. Someone has finally had enough of ISIS and has decided to put their foot down. Anonymous is enacting a policy of vigilante justice.  According to the Legal Information Institute, the term “vigilante justice” often describes the actions of a single person or group of people who claim to enforce the law but lack the legal authority to do so. Anonymous operates above the law, often performing questionable actions in the pursuit of greater freedom for all people.  In this case, they have been effectively censoring ISIS via the removal of social media.  Social media is the main tool that the Islamic State has used for recruitment, and Anonymous is helping to cripple them by removing their Internet presence, curbing the dissemination of anti-Western propaganda. It’s a brilliant strategy, and hits ISIS where it hurts. Currently, Anonymous is focusing on Twitter. They are now flooding all pro-Isis hashtags with Rick Astley's infamous "Never Gonna Give You Up" music video. Whenever a targeted Isis account tries to post a message, the topic will instead be flooded with countless videos of Rick Astley.

However, not everybody is happy with Anonymous’ decision to intervene in world affairs. Many people frown upon Anonymous’ actions.  Law enforcement officials have said that Anonymous has actually prevented law enforcement agencies from doing their job effectively and tracking ISIS supporters.

I really don’t believe anything the agencies have said.  If they were actively working on tracking ISIS and disabling their propaganda machine, it would have been done.  Why was Anonymous able to come up with a list of suspects, but not the very governments and intelligence agencies we rely on to protect us?  Clearly, they weren’t doing an adequate job.  That only reinforces my opinion that anything that can be done against ISIS is a good thing.  While Anonymous has done questionable things in the past, I don’t believe they are necessarily bad people, and based on the amount of effort they have dedicated to taking down ISIS, it’s clear this is a cause they truly care about.

Right now, ISIS is winning.  The world is gripped with fear and leaders are heightening security around the globe.  This is exactly what they want - by restricting our freedoms and information, the terrorists are winning. They are making our governments slowly strip away our freedoms - thus making people fearful, the government more controlling, and changing who we are both as nations and as citizens of the world.

Anonymous, by their very nature of being faceless and mysterious, are a symbol of freedom. They do as they wish, not bound by laws or governments.  They preach of representing freedom and fighting for liberty and equality, opposing oppression in all its forms. And while some may frown upon them or their actions, in this time of clouded terror, freedom fighters, even if they are of the virtual kind, are exactly what we need. They have no fear, and right now they are fighting for our freedoms. Our freedom to feel secure in the nations in which we live. Our freedom to not be afraid.  Our freedom to trust our governments, instead of questioning their decisions.

I strongly believe it is right that Anonymous is left to fight ISIS on the cyber front.  They have clearly done a better job than numerous intelligence agencies. Since our governments are not doing anything about it, they can perhaps try to focus on a military aspect of the fight against the Islamic State.  Even then, though, I think you would be hard-pressed to see world leaders launch a full-scale assault on ISIS, which is what needs to be done to eliminate them.  The bombing campaigns that are being preached by Obama and Hollande are just not working.  They have caused more harm than good, and contributed to more Middle Eastern people joining ISIS than actually harming the terrorist group. In fact, they were what led directly to the Paris attacks.

Governments should be working actively with Anonymous, instead of decrying their actions.  If this happened, the war against the Islamic State would go much smoother, and perhaps some ground may actually be covered, instead of having world leaders continue to postulate about how much of a threat ISIS is and fail to act on that threat.


Stefan Morrone is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada. He is a graduate of the Ryerson School of Journalism and enjoys writing about a variety of topics.

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