The media’s portrayal of hacking, hackers, and hacktivism before and after September 11

Sandor Vegh


This paper provides a thorough analysis of the mainstream media representation of hackers, hacking, hacktivism, and cyberterrorism. The intensified U.S. debate on the security of cyberspace after September 11, 2001, has negatively influenced the movement of online political activism, which is now forced to defend itself against being labeled by the authorities as a form of cyberterrorism. However, these socially or politically progressive activities often remain unknown to the public, or if reported, they are presented in a negative light in the mass media.

In support of that claim, I analyze five major U.S. newspapers in a one–year period with 9–11 in the middle. I argue that certain online activities are appropriated for the goals of the political and corporate elite with the help of the mass media under their control to serve as pretext for interventions to preserve the status quo. Thus, the media portrayal of hacking becomes part of the elite’s hegemony to form a popular consensus in a way that supports the elite’s crusade under different pretexts to eradicate hacking, an activity that may potentially threaten the dominant order.

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