How computer hackers are influencing the Ferguson protests


The protests in Ferguson, Mo. over the past few days have gained national attention. Much of the support and even information about the violent scene in the St. Louis suburb has come from social media.

In particular, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous has been heavily involved in the protests. The collective revealed the name of the officer it believes shot Michael Brown, along with photos of the officer, on Thursday, Aug. 14. However, the St. Louis County Police has said the report is inaccurate.

"People really need to harshly judge the accuracy of this group, given that they've now given false information about several important things," Sgt. Colby Dolly of the St. Louis County Police told the Washington Post.

Anonymous has called for a "National Day of Rage" on Thursday, Aug. 14 for people to assemble in cities across the country, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, to gather and show their support for the Ferguson protests. Members of the collective plan to demonstrate with people on the ground in person.

"We cannot sit still and watch this happen. It is our time to get off our chairs, turn off our TVs and computers, and make ourselves heard. Let us all stand in solidarity with Mike Brown, the people of Ferguson and every single person who was brutally murdered by a so-called authority," said the announcer in Anonymous' video press release on the "National Day of Rage."

Anonymous has been a major supporter of the Ferguson protests, tweeting out information about the night Brown was shot, the riots in Ferguson and the actions taken by police against the protesters. The collective has also released personal information about St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, reportedly his address, telephone number and a photo of him and his wife with the tweet "Nice photo, Jon. Your wife actually looks good for her age. Have you had enough?" This Twitter account was later suspended on Aug. 14.

A Twitter account for Anonymous' campaign Operation Ferguson has tried to distinguish itself from that Twitter account run by other members of Anonymous and clarify its mission.

Anonymous also claimed responsibility for making the phones and Internet crash at City Hall as well as making the website go down on Aug. 12. Prior to that, Anonymous had warned the Ferguson Police Department in a video released Aug. 11. "We are watching you very closely. If you abuse, harass, or harm the protesters in Ferguson, we will take every web-based asset of your departments and federal agencies offline," the announcer in the video said.

And the police force did abuse the protesters in Ferguson on the night of August 13, when the county police used tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds as well as arrest two journalists. Consequently, the Ferguson protests have gained attention online. The hashtag #MediaBlackout was trending on Aug. 14, where users tweeted their concerns over the media's coverage of the protests, the police's treatment of the media and other thoughts on the situation. Earlier in the week, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown went viral with users questioning how the media portrays minority victims.

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