It’s become obvious to most observers that the hacktivist group Anonymous is not only losing its self-declared war on ISIS, but is also shooting itself in the foot while doing so. Their latest strategy? To use “Rickrolling,” a well-worn internet prank from the late 2000s, to attempt to disrupt their communications.
The hackers of Anonymous launch new crusades rather frequently, though one particular “op,” dubbed #OpParis, has attracted much media attention. Anonymous entered into its so far rather one-sided war against the Islamic State last week after the attacks on Paris that claimed the lives of 130 people.
Anon’s #OpParis and #OpISIS are their response, an attempt to expose and shut down accounts run by ISIS supporters. So, how does “Rickrolling” enter into this?
“Rickrolling” is by now a classic internet prank where a user posts a link that seems relevant or interesting to the topic at hand, but upon clicking turns out to be nothing more than the music video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The plan, according to a tweet by the Anonymous-affiliated account #OpParis Wednesday, is to flood the Twitter feeds of Islamic State supporters and members with links to the video of Astley’s song in order to sabotage their efforts to communicate.
Our upcoming action: spamming verified ISIS hashtags with rickrolls. Will release the list as soon as it's compiled.— #OpParis (@OpParisOfficial) November 18, 2015
Originally, the goal of the op was to expose the social media accounts and websites of ISIS supporters. Now, Anon has said they would start the op by posting “Rickroll” links in posts accompanied with the #SupportISIS hashtag used by online jihadists to inquire about the group.
Certainly, fighting the Islamic State is a noble goal, but the effectiveness of Anon in actually combating ISIS has thus far been rather underwhelming. While it is true that ISIS regularly radicalizes its followers worldwide through the use of social media, the effectiveness of a loose-knit group of hackers attempting to drown out pro-ISIS social media propaganda with an ’80s pop song, even to invoke humor, is questionable. The problem also is that creating phony ISIS accounts in the name of disruption also clouds attempts by authorities to find genuine ISIS accounts and information.
Even more disturbing, when Anonymous identifies what it believes are accounts belonging to Islamic State supporters, the personal details of the owner are blasted to the entire world. ExtremeTech points out that this becomes a serious problem when hackers cannot positively identify their intended target.
“The goal of the op is apparently to expose Twitter accounts and websites that are run by members of ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, reports are now claiming that the vast majority of Twitter accounts targeted by members of Anonymous aren’t affiliated with ISIS at all. Oops.”
In a YouTube video released by Anonymous, they claimed that #OpParis has exposed more than 25,000 Twitter accounts of ISIS supporters and more than 2,500 websites run by ISIS.
Almost predictably, these claims turned out to be wildly inaccurate to say the very least. It seems far more likely that the group is reporting thousands of Twitter accounts, including in many cases the accounts of anti-ISIS journalists and activists, especially given the significant language barrier. These actions drew swift condemnation from Twitter. Members of Anonymous also claimed to have information regarding a terrorist attack on a WWE event in Atlanta. CBS News reported that the FBI, currently in the process of investigating ISIS operatives in the United States, did not consider the information to be credible.
Overall, it seems thus far Anonymous is losing in their cyber “war” against ISIS. Their latest idea to use “Rickrolls” to disrupt their communications is simply another example. Rickrolling is good for a laugh, and for distracting oneself from all the horror on the news, but as an effective weapon against terrorism? Only time will tell.
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