Digital Outlaws: Hackers and “the commons”

In the Söderberg’s article, he talked about something about hackers, and I’d like to use my word to explain hackers and hacktivists. In my opinion, hacktivist is the proper subset of hacker, that is to say, if a person is a hacktivist, he/she must also a hacker; while if one is a hacker, he/she may belong to another type of hacker rather than hacktivist. To be specific, in my perspective, hackers are people who have such technology that with which they can intrude into others’ computers or other websites without permission.

We always identify hackers are bad guys, while except for hackers who intrude for profits (black hat), there are some hackers (white hat) intrude for protecting or for helping other people to find bugs of their websites and thus update them. For example, when the matter between China and Japan of the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Island heated up in 2012, some Chinese hackers intruded into Japanese government’s website and revised its front page to show “Diaoyu Island belongs to China” in both Chinese, English and Japanese, Chinese people call these hackers “red hat”. However, hacktivist is hacker who intrudes into websites for not profits or protection, but for political or social activity purpose, and the hacking activities did by them are hacktivisms. For instance, hacktivists hacking Chinese government’s websites because they want to show their dissatisfaction of government’s activities and they want government to make change, these acts is totally like other hacker acts such as intruding into a game website to upgrade equipment.


In the John’s article, he mentioned the concept “tragedy of the commons”, which was proposed by Hardin’s article in 1968. In this article, Hardin told a story about because farmers only considered about their own interests and thus let more cows to the pasture, the common finally became overused. In my perspective, this concept refers to that when people can acquire resource from a public place (common), everyone who can acquire resource will get more than a certain portion which can keep a balance between personal profit and the sustainable development of the common. Because everyone obtains more than they should have, the common will be overexploited. For instance, in the past few decades, forest in the Greater Hinggan (China’s largest natural forest area) was overcut because of lots of local companies just concerned about their development while ignored the destruction of environment, which finally somewhat cause the frequent sandstorm in Beijing in my childhood.


Although “tragedy of the commons” is still a strong problem in our society, I agree with what Ostrom’s opinion that this tragedy could be regulated and even restricted. Like the overcut happened in China I referred above, in 2015, Chinese government stopped cutting forests in the Greater Hinggan to protect the natural environment. Actually, Chinese started decreasing cut few years ago, and with this effort, at least sandstorm happens not so regularly, in fact it was hardly ever happens in Beijing in recent years. Thus I believe that once people pay more attention to “tragedy of the commons”, tragedy may not happen in the commons.


4 thoughts on “Digital Outlaws: Hackers and “the commons”

  1. Hi Lin’Ao,
    You made a clear distinction between hacker and hacktivists, and also between ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’ hackers. I think your example of Chinese hacking intro Japanese websites is definitely describing hacktivism. Another example I would think of is the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has been established to support the government of Bashar Al-Assad. Since 2011, the SEA has targeted many websites of political opposition groups, including some Western news organization, and human right agencies. This is something unprecedented in the Middle East for a government to recruit hackers to serve its political agenda. SEA even attacked many universities’ website in the United States, including University of California Los Angeles, Harvard University. Harvard homepage was replaced by the image of the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.


  2. Hi Linao,
    Interesting example about the Red Hat! I didn’t hear this kind of hacker before and you bring me new understanding of hackers. About the commons, your examples also illustrated this phenomenon very well. It seems that you are keeping a positive attitude about tragedy of the commons. However, I think this tragedy to some extent is hard to be diminished, especially from the global view. As we know, many developed countries tend to set up pollutant industries in other developing countries, in order to protect their own clean environment. Yet, what happened in the environment of the earth will effect every countries on the earth, such as glacier melting. No matter developed countries set up pollutant companies in which places. If every developed country think the same and is only concerned about their own benefit, tragedy of the commons will not disappear.


  3. Good discussion about the commons. If you research the article “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Hardin, 1968), you’ll find that his description of the original common lands being ruined by overuse is actually not accurate. However, we can see that there are cases when a common good or resource is destroyed, such as the forests in many countries.


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