‘Anonymous’ has become increasingly more infamous in the past year or two for stunts such as swamping the MTV European Music Awards with votes which saw Rick Astley carried to victory as part of something of an in-joke for those embedded in cyber culture, or the more serious concerted actions against the ‘Church’ of Scientology for their attempts at internet censorship.

Since Wikileaks has become a household name and we’re all glued to the news to see what’s going to happen next in this fascinating collision of cyberspace and politics, Anonymous has once again reared its head into the mainstream by launching one of the biggest and most widely publicised Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks it’s managed so far – ‘Operation Payback’. The target? Mastercard, for their role in choking off financial donations to the whistle-blowing site.

After initially only seeming to take down the company’s corporate website for hours (which, let’s face it, no-one ever visits), it appears that for whatever reason, be it shared-hosting or otherwise, the actual Mastercard payment systems were also affected.

With over 3000 members in the IRC channel where the attacks were being co-ordinated from; huge mainstream media coverage and Mastercard left reeling, attention was inevitably turned towards Visa for their part in the spectacle.. A message on Twitter reading:

Almost instantaneously, the site was brought to its knees, which is where it remains as I write this.

Elsewhere, the number of mirrors of the Wikileaks site (direct and exact copies) that have been set up has sprung from just a couple of hundred to over 1000 in a matter of days, as groups and individuals around the internet rally in support.

So what’s important about all of this?

The most interesting thing is that it all goes far beyond this current issue of ‘CableGate’, despite its obvious importance.

This is a cultural shift that has been looming since the politicians and media proudly declared that “file sharing was dead” back when they won a court case to close Napster. Oh how wrong they were on that one.

…and that’s exactly the point. What lessons have been learned since then? It seems very little. The internet is an incredible creation because of its refusal to submit to any authority that tries to repress its existence in the freedom and communication of information. Every time an organisation or state tries to stem the flow, it gets overwhelmed by the sheer volume that follows.

I love that, and I love the possibilities that it creates.

Media correspondents can talk about half understood things like ‘net neutrality’ and ‘hacktivism’ all they want, but the really exciting thing is the shift in mindset from the idea that one person is powerless on their own; the strength of the collective.

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