October 3, 2014

Hack to basics

UEA attack is disappointingly typical.

The hack is back, and with a vengeance.

After a relatively innocuous display of force against users of the free printing service Freenters last November, the entity calling itself the UChicago Electronic Army has finally debuted its sophomoric sophomore effort, this time against the supposed creators of the infamous Hyde Park List. As reported by Jezebel (apparently UChicago’s eminent summer quarter campus news source), the UEA commandeered MODA’s website to disseminate the message, rendered in so much tired Reddit-speak, that the List makers needed to fuck off.

Predictably, the UEA condemned “feminists, SJWs, Tumblrfags, privelage (sic) checkers, humanities majors, and everyone else who faps to the word ‘triggered,’” and went on to threaten the entire Class of 2018 (men included?) with rape if they did not fall in line with its nebulous demands. That last sentiment alone would’ve been more than enough to qualify this latest outing as an “epic troll,” an act to which any group that calls itself “The UChicago Electronic Army” must always aspire. But it went further: The organization also posted the personal information and picture of a campus sexual assault activist, apparently under the assumption that said activist was involved with the List.

Hacking, as I understand it, is a feat that requires a not inconsiderable degree of mental dexterity. The guilty member(s) of UAE are also, apparently, students at the University of Chicago. That anyone with the above qualifications would also be capable of writing the kind of over-the-top, outdated misogynistic drivel contained in the UAE’s message, in full seriousness and without any trace of jest or irony, should be surprising. But it isn’t. In fact, on the web today, this kind of rhetoric, and these kinds of attacks, are still incredibly and depressingly normal.

Remember “Tits or GTFO”? That old chestnut, coined on the chaotic /b/ section of the self-consciously cloistered Internet board 4Chan, is a bit played out at this point, but the sentiment holds. Enter the dreaded comments section of basically any article written by or about a woman (even in the most corollary degree), and you’ll see calls for nudity. If the words contained in that article are at all inflammatory, you’ll probably see calls for rape, too. Then there are the big events: the recent doxing and harassment of female gaming activists Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, the mass disregard for female privacy that was The Fappening, the “nude countdown clock” that followed Emma Watson’s pro-feminist UN speech (if that last one ultimately turned out to be a hoax, the hype surrounding it was brutally real).

It’s both deeply sad and sobering to see that this trend has made its way to our own enlightened campus. The UEA is not alone, of course. UChicago Secrets, allegedly a fairly accurate barometer of popular campus sentiment, was a boiling pot of crouched misogyny and faux-righteous victim shaming in the wake of the List. Meanwhile, YikYak, a late arrival and currently in its infancy at UChicago, still functions primarily as a safe space for fraternity members to call each other gay and debate the merits of first-year girls. They’ve been known to joke around, too. “UChicago can’t really be where fun goes to die if we have this many cases of sexual assault,” said one recent Yak. At last check, it had about three votes of support.

Is this how we really feel?

Here a lazier commentator might quote Oscar Wilde, who, at some point, somewhere, might have said something like, “Give a man a mask, and he’ll show you his true face.” But that’s bullshit. Masks—be they anonymous handles, balaclavas, or those annoying, plastic Guy Fawkes things—change us. They bring out the best in us, and the worst; see the Ring of Gyges, see the Milgram Experiments, see DC Comics. The “true” face, whatever that means, is the one we show in public. The one that’s subject to public judgment and consequences. That’s us, really, or as “us” as we’ll ever really be.

If the UChicago Electronic Army actually is an army—and not, as I suspect, two dudes who can read C++ and drink a solid amount of Mountain Dew Code Red—I have yet to see a convincing display of their power. The army I did see, last Wednesday, was 100 strong, marching in silence, lit candles in hand. My friends, many of them, or my classmates. Did the UEA mobilize them? Because that was convincing. That was powerful.

Will Dart is a third-year in the College majoring in English.