Should World War 4 Report honor the PayPal boycott?

It appears that the hacker groups Anonymous and LulzSec have teamed up to issue a call to boycott PayPal, evidently if not quite logically in response to FBI raids in which 14 accused Anonymous members were arrested across the country. The only connection between the raids and the boycott seems to be that the 14 are charged in connection with a “distributed denial of service attack” against PayPal, which took down the company’s website for four days in December. Here is the cyber-outlaws’ joint communique, with jargon and propaganda words in bold:

Dear PayPal, its customers, and our friends around the globe,

This is an official communiqué from Anonymous and Lulz Security in the name of AntiSec.

In recent weeks, we’ve found ourselves outraged at the FBI’s willingness to arrest and threaten those who are involved in ethical, modern cyber operations. Law enforcement continues to push its ridiculous rules upon us—Anonymous “suspects” may face a fine of up to 500,000 USD with the addition of 15 years’ jailtime, all for taking part in a historical activist movement. Many of the already-apprehended Anons are being charged with taking part in DDoS attacks against corrupt and greedy organizations, such as PayPal.

What the FBI needs to learn is that there is a vast difference between adding one’s voice to a chorus and digital sit-in with Low Orbit Ion Cannon, and controlling a large botnet of infected computers. And yet both of these are punishable with exactly the same fine and sentence.

In addition to this horrific law enforcement incompetence, PayPal continues to withhold funds from WikiLeaks, a beacon of truth in these dark times. By simply standing up for ourselves and uniting the people, PayPal still sees it fit to wash its hands of any blame, and instead encourages and assists law enforcement to hunt down participants in the AntiSec movement.

Quite simply, we, the people, are disgusted with these injustices. We will not sit down and let ourselves be trampled upon by any corporation or government. We are not scared of you, and that is something for you to be scared of. We are not the terrorists here: you are.

We encourage anyone using PayPal to immediately close their accounts and consider an alternative. The first step to being truly free is not putting one’s trust into a company that freezes accounts when it feels like, or when it is pressured by the U.S. government. PayPal’s willingness to fold to legislation should be proof enough that they don’t deserve the customers they get. They do not deserve your business, and they do not deserve your respect.

Join us in our latest operation against PayPal—tweet pictures of your account closure, tell us on IRC, spread the word. Anonymous has become a powerful channel of information, and unlike the governments of the world, we are here to fight for you. Always.

Signed, your allies,

Lulz Security (unvanned)
Anonymous (unknown)
AntiSec (untouchable)

Calls for a boycott should clearly state what the exact grievances against the target are, and how a boycott will be effective in addressing them. This statement dramatically fails to do either. It is instead laden with vague sanctimony and inside-baseball buzzwords. What are these undefined “ethical, modern cyber operations” of which “AntiSec” boasts? Here’s one from Anonymous’ Wikipedia page:

YouTube porn day
On May 20, 2009, members of Anonymous uploaded numerous pornographic videos onto YouTube. Many of these videos were disguised as children’s videos or family friendly videos with tags such as “Jonas brothers.” YouTube has since removed all videos uploaded. The BBC contacted one of the uploaders who stated that it was a “4chan raid” organized due to the removal of music videos from YouTube. BBC News reported that one victim posted a comment saying: “I’m 12 years old and what is this?” which went on to become an internet meme.

Sounds really ethical. DDoS apparently stands for distributed denial-of-service attack (“an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users,” Wikipedia tells us). “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” still has us stumped even after reading the phrase’s Wikipedia page. “We, the people“? So now a small coterie of adventurist hackers constitute “the people”? Funny, we don’t recall ever being consulted on their actions. And what does “terrorism” have to do with any of this? Is either hacking or busting hackers “terrorism”? Has anyone (even the FBI) called Anonymous “terrorists”? What does “fold to legislation” mean? Has a law been passed barring donations to WikiLeaks? And if one was, wouldn’t PayPal be obliged to honor it, barring an act of civil disobedience? What does “encouraging and assisting law enforcement” mean? Does “AntiSec” really expect PayPal to not complain to the FBI after getting hacked?

This all seems to go back to WikiLeaks, that “beacon of truth in these dark times” (more below on the irony of this characterization). From the New York Times account of the FBI raids on July 19:

The charges, which were brought by federal prosecutors in the Northern District of California in San Jose, allege that Anonymous members performed a distributed denial of service attack against PayPal, the payment Web site, taking the company’s Web site offline for four days. The attacks, which took place during December of last year, were in retaliation for PayPal’s refusal to process WikiLeaks credit card payments.

And the Facebook page on the boycott is entitled: “Boycott PayPal for Dumping Wikileaks.”

Readers will be aware that World War 4 Report objects in the strongest terms to the uncritical glorification of WikiLeaks, and has been striving to bring attention to the dark side of its activities—especially its failure to take any responsibility for the human rights “blowback” on dissidents under authoritarian regimes who are named in the voluminous documents it released. And, in fact, it may go beyond mere “blowback” and extend to active collaboration with dictators. There are unsettling indications that WikiLeaks’ representative in Belarus, the notorious anti-Semite Israel Shamir, actively provided Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko with intelligence on dissidents, who were then rounded up and tortured by the hundreds. Neither supporters nor detractors of WikiLeaks have been willing to look squarely at this certainly odious and potentially sinister affair. But we will not let it rest. WikiLeaks owes us a forthright accounting on the Belarus affair. And the silence has been deafening.

Now, even if we must dissent from the “beacon of truth” rhetoric, there is still legitimacy to the critique of PayPal. As one reader who encouraged us to take this question on wrote:

The issue is not what you or I or anyone else thinks of Wikileaks. The issue is the precarious position of any group that relies on on-line donations or sales. To have the ever present threat of losing their monetary lifelines if they do something that a payment gateway company doesn’t like can have a really dampening effect on their actions. Further, as in the Wikileaks case, if the gateways cutoff access due to government pressure, there is more room for abuse.

We noted the inherent vulnerabilities of online activism when we covered government proposals for an “Internet kill switch” last year. So this is absolutely a critical question—but one that is ultimately much bigger than PayPal. Given that this danger is inherent to the technology, is a boycott at all likely to help?

We will point out that, for all the much-hyped role of electronic communications in the Arab Spring, the Egyptian revolution only gained momentum after the Mubarak dictatorship shut down the Internet. While this critique may be ironic coming from obsessive bloggers like us (although we have been consigned to this status by market forces), maybe it is time to rethink the notion of “online activism” entirely and return politics to the meat world. The critical propaganda medium of the 1979 Iranian Revolution was cassette tapes, and somehow the Parisian communards managed to pull it off in 1871 without even having Xerox machines.

Another—and much less appreciated—danger of the current digital hypertrophy and colonization of reality is the ever-changing nature of the technology, which is really a planned obsolescence scam to make money for the cyber-overlords and waste precious resources like coltan. This scam keeps us constantly learning and relearning, buying new gadgets and programs, reformatting and reprocessing, like gerbils on an exercise wheel, instead of actually writing, thinking and organizing. This boycott call provides a case in point. It took considerable time and effort to get a PayPal account set up for all three of our websites, World War 4 Report, New Jewish Resistance and Global Ganja Report. Having to do all this work over again with some “alternative” to PayPal is extremely demoralizing—especially given that someone will doubtless be calling for a boycott of the alternative a few months down the line.

We note that two of the websites most popular with progressives, Democracy Now and Counterpunch (although the latter is not “progressive” but deeply reactionary) seem to have been set up with some kind of non-PayPal “shopping cart” system for online donations. Common Dreams and TruthOut seem to still be using PayPal. Given how few donations World War 4 Report gets (the minutest fraction of those accrued by the aforementioned), we aren’t sure the boycott has to begin with us.

But we encourage our readers to weigh in on this dilemma. And we ask: Is anyone who strongly feels that we should dump PayPal volunteering to help set us up with an alternative?

See our last posts on the WikiLeaks scandals and the politics of cyberspace

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

  1. A few thoughts
    It seems to me that Anonymous is voicing its opinion that strikes and/or public sit-ins are an ethical, effective and legal way to voice dissent against an organization that has been unethical or unjust, as they believe Paypal has. If this were JC Penney’s, they would (or at least could) mass outside stores for a traditional civil protest, but Paypal’s “front door” is on the internet, so they use a “traffic overload” (DDOS) as the same thing.

    The “low orbit ion cannon” is simply a program someone wrote to help launch protests. If you and I wanted to overload a server, we might open our browsers and make requests to the website as quickly as we could. However, it would take hundreds if not thousands of us doing this to have the desired effect. A simple program (such as the ion cannon) can make thousands of requests at one time, so only a small number of people can effectively overflow a server’s capability.

    Finally, your suggestion about finding a Paypal alternative is at once true and telling; there is no replacement that is as effective, easy and widely used. However, this looks to me like a red flag: shouldn’t we have alternatives? Paypal themselves recently said as much (that there are no alternatives), and that may be why they so readily agreed to the U.S. governments request to stop providing service to Wikileaks without a court order or any legal precedent: They fear no backlash from the public or from business.

  2. a capital transaction
    a capital transaction is a capital transaction. there is no reachable ‘ethical consumerism’ or anything like that in our current context (or possibly ever, but maybe not). using capital, within the current context, can only be a matter of strategic action, since it seems to be an unavoidable (at least, within our current social context, for everyone i’ve ever met it is, myself included) yet philosophically repugnant act. we do need to survive after all, and most sources of food and shelter have been commodified.

    so, if it’s a matter of strategy in how we use forms of capital, does your use of paypal have a significant impact? paypal receives some percentage of each transaction i imagine, so it would make far more sense for a large organization like democracy now to move away from it (especially since they can have an employee do the aggrivating part of the work, i imagine you may be in a different spot, no offense intended), than your own, unless you start getting the kind of national attention they do (which i can only hope for, since i think you cover a lot of things they gloss over or miss).

  3. what, Visa is more socialist?
    I’m all for boycotting Paypal as I’m all for boycotting ConEd, the phone companies, the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the entire international banking system. Our intrepid cyber warriors know it’s all about getting them some press.

  4. Anon have proved they can
    Anon have proved they can invoke sufficient chaos by simply letting a few marbles get loose and allowing others to attempt to clean up messes with bigger messes. The less seriously they take themselves, the more effective they become. The more political they sway, the more they resemble their own targets in both vulnerability and intent.