In the past few years the hacker consortium Anonymous has made Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) a particular target for their “hacktivism.” Social activism through computer hacking took a unique turn in the wake of the Newton shooting on Friday, however, when a convicted independent hacker named Cosmo (or @CosmoTheGod on Twitter) co-opted one of the Westboro Baptist’s Twitter feeds in retaliation for their plans to picket the funerals of the slain Sandy Hook children. The feed, @DearShirley, remained under Cosmo’s control under Twitter suspended the account earlier today. You can read more about Cosmo in this wired article.
Fortunately, I took a number of screengrabs to document the kind of religious responses folks had to Cosmo’s hacktivism. Instead of speaking directly about the Newton shooting and religious responses by Franklin Graham (blame Psy of Gangam Style?) or other components of the tragedy, I want to use this Textual Tuesday as a chance to share Twitter as a primary source. This is especially pertinent given the circumstances of Cosmo’s takeover of the WBC feed. The public, well-established Twitter feed of the WBC became a platform for a huge number of tweets protesting its existence–many of which directly challenged the WBC’s theology and Christian perspective.
For more on this story, you can head to the following articles:
1. Wired Magazine
3. New Civil Rights Movement Blog
But here are the real goods, the screen grabs of the @DearShirley WBC feed under the control of @CosmoTheGod:
First, Cosmo announced his successful hack.
Then he begins retweeting dozens of congratulatory tweets that cite him (@CosmoTheGod) or WBC (@DearShirley).
Many of the tweets explicitly identify themselves as atheists but argue that karma, fate, God or other agents may have played a retributive role in Cosmo’s actions. These include hashtags such as “#GodSentTheHacker” and “#mustbegodswill”.
Tweets continue to roll out for hours as Cosmo controls the feed.
The preference appears to be for cheeky or sly rebukes of WBC’s own religious positions. So we continue to see quite a lot of tweets on the theme that God’s will has truly been shown by the takeover or that the God’s plan is being fulfilled.
And even more
Now some analytic questions:
1. If Cosmo was the editor of these, what can we say about his selections?
2. If there are tweets that had the right parameters (@CosmoTheGod and @DearShirley, etc.) that didn’t make the cut, why not?
3. What can we say about the retweets and their authors?
4. What was the role of hacktivism in promoting a religious agenda that confronts the religious agenda of the WBC?
5. Was the hacktivism an effective strategy for the opponents of WBC?
And so on.
I think we’ll need to wait to see the fall-out from this incident. Of central concern will be the petition Cosmo encouraged his supporters to sign that would recommend labeling the WBC as a hate group. Also pertinent will be any further legal action against Cosmo given that he is currently legally forbidden from using electronic devices.
WBC may use this opportunity to further develop their sense of victimology and to increase their visibility in the media. It wouldn’t be the first time they would have had the chance to do that, either.
Nevertheless, Cosmo, Anonymous, and the hacker community’s actions against WBC appear poised only to increase in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Whether this will continue to highlight the religious sensibilities of the hacking community and its supporters, the tweets above suggests there is at least some definable shape to their religious beliefs. This could just be the beginning of a significant religious hacktivism movement that finally catches on after failing to draw sustained attention for previous actions. Moral outrage against banks, media outlets and so on seems to have done less to galvanize these networks than this particular attack. Keep your eyes peeled for new developments and feel free to send them my way (on Twitter if you like, @dmcconeghy)