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"Anonymous" - Another Schoolyard Bully

When did limiting your Facebook status updates within the confines of a BART station become censorship?

Recently BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) interrupted cell service inside several Bart stations in San Francisco as a safety precaution against a possible protest. According to their statement of 8/12/2011, it was "One of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform."

In response, a group calling themselves Anonymous hacked into the BART website and Tweeted links to BART employees personal information urging the public to "use email bombs" and flood them with calls and faxes. In addition, they posted other information via Twitter and Facebook hacked from the BART site.

I, for one, felt safer that as a BART rider, I would not be subjected to a possible so called flash mob within the confines of the train platform. With limited exits, fast moving trains, open track access, an overcrowded boarding area would have scared me quite a bit.

I am no stranger to protests, having participated in Hands Across the Sand just last year. We were peaceful, put no lives at risk, managed to gain national attention, and voiced our opinions.

Yet like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, when this protest was interrupted by not having cell service within the BART stations, Anonymous resorted to a shameful act that could have put even more people at risk.

Speaking with people around town, everyone seemed to agree that hacking into a company's system and posting hard working neighbors personal information was not OK. That said, many launched into a debate about whether or not Bart was limiting free speech, the government censoring us by interrupting service, and on and on. The question of a criminal act seemed to get lost in the debate of whether Bart was mimicking a blood thirsty dictatorship or not by limiting free speech. Really? 

In many instances, opinions seemed to be grouped by age bracket. Again, this wasn't a poll, just the water-cooler conversation in some of the places I visited.

Many, but not all, of the under-30 crowd felt it was an appropriate response to an entity they felt (whether right or wrong) had killed an unarmed citizen. The over-40 crowd was quite the opposite. Interestingly, no on was willing to be quoted. Why? Was Anonymous like the schoolyard bully waiting to jump out from behind the tree (or mask) and steal our lunch money? I was soon to find out.

Most issues are not cut and dried, black or white. Many times I can see the validity of both sides of a political debate. This one seems to have drawn a line in the sand. I quite innocently posted a comment on an on-line news site about the hacking. I felt that a criminal act (I am most certainly not a lawyer, just common sense tells me that hacking may be a criminal act) in response to the cell interruption was shameful. I wrote that we have many avenues with which to respond or protest with. I also wrote that free speech is a right, but updating your Facebook status within the confines of a BART station is not.

I was surprised by the emails that I received. One likened me to the "murdering regimes of Syria and Egypt" for wanting to censor my fellow Americans. I was told my ignorant glib statements would earn me retribution. 

I am not reporting news but rather offering one humble opinion. And since I am fortunate enough to live here in San Mateo in the good old USA, I get to express that opinion. You can choose to disagree, or not read it, or simply click on another page.

What you don't get to do is bully me into not expressing that opinion. So here is my picture. Feel free to share your opinions when you run into to me.

Unlike Anonymous, I am not committing a crime and don't need to hide behind a mask. And I refuse to be bullied into to keeping quiet. Because really, isn't that what they are doing? Scaring us into keeping silent for fear of our information hitting the Internet? So follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or better yet, post your opinion here on the Patch. It isn't whether I agree with the BART decision or their management, it is about us as a society, accepting criminal acts to implement change.

Kathy McEachron August 22, 2011 at 03:38 PM
I agree. Everyone should be able to express their opinion and not worry about retaliation. When it comes to safety, I can live without my cell phone for an hour. Great picture by the way!
Janet McCracken August 22, 2011 at 04:11 PM
With facebook, blogs, twitter etc. Anonymous has allowed people to become rude, hateful and just jerks. If everyone was required to identify themselves this type of behaviour would not happen. When you protested you were front and center and people could actually speack to you. In this case its just a bunch of idiot bullies trying to cause trouble. There is nothing helpful about these actions. Its not like us old hippies didn't protest, we did, but we were NOT anonymous.
Greg J August 22, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Promoting a mob mentality never led to anything positive. Mobs don't think.
Diane Phillips August 22, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Thank you Denise for your insightful comments. I for one am of the older generation who do not feel that everything is a right. If I can use my cell phone (or even have one), it is a privilege. And if you don't want me to use it in your home for whatever reason that is your right. It is also Bart's right to cut off the service for any reason. Anyway, that's my feeling. Diane Phillips
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Hi Kathy! Thank you, I'm such a ham... I agree. I too can live for an hour without my cell. Every time I visit a museum or doctors office the building is set up so mobiles don't have service.
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Thanks Janet! I completely agree with you! And am surprised to note that Patch readers seem to be also in agreement.
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Thanks for the read Greg! You are right!
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Hi Diane! Thank you. It is easy to forget that cell phones are a privilege! Not so long ago, we had plenty of demonstrations, uh the entire civil rights movement, & went on successfully without cell service.
Jason August 23, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Similar arguments such as this could've been made during slavery too. Some people from that time might have argued 'The blacks are allowed to ride the bus; there is nothing guaranteeing them the right to ride in the front.' Maybe some (Not Me!) feel it's ok to break the law while protesting against establishments. They probably feel that is ok due to the fact that the establishments often break laws including constitutional ones. Have you tried thinking and feeling about where the members or Anon are coming from? I'm not anon but I do feel their fighting on the right side. I'm sure if they were just bullies they'd be hacking a lot more sites. Some people in my generation are tired of phoning, emailing representatives that don't seem to listen so they take their message to the streets in other ways. I don't always agree with them but I do agree with their stated philosophies and beliefs. BTW harboring slaves back in the day was illegal too but that doesn't mean it's right. I would feel differently if BART had warned people. Not everyone uses their phone to update this facebook status; some of us have important communications to make. I bet even some have critical communications to make.
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Jason, I appreciate your views and taking the time to comment. As you asked, I have read every flier and viewed most the YouTube videos Anonymous has put out prior to writing this opinion. I understand the frustration at not always being heard. I also understand there are times one has to break the letter of the law to affect change. That said, I cannot understand hacking into a system & posting employee's personal information on the internet. It is unfortunate that sometimes that information can put the employee's children and parents and spouses at risk. It doesn't seem to further the cause, but rather puts the focus on the validity of the people furthering the cause. And, lest we forget, all one had to do to use their cell phone that day was just step outside the turnstile area of the station. The DeYoung does not post signs saying no service is allowed inside, yet there is no service inside... Also please note, they have tweeted responsibility for hacking other sites... I look forward to hearing from you again. Denise
Jason August 23, 2011 at 05:08 AM
I am not defending their actions nor am I proposing that cutting off cell phone access was unconstitutional. I'm simply arguing I think there was more responsible ways BART could have dealt with the situation and I'm also arguing anonymous is not just bullying. There are reports of some anons who don't agree with those posting either so you and some of anon are in agreement with at least one thing.
Denise Nelson August 23, 2011 at 05:19 AM
Jason, you are right in that I agree with some of what I've read and that there has to be accountability for public entities like Bart. I think the protest tonight did more to be heard than the hacking. But that's just me. I appreciate your views!
Jason August 24, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Holy crap! Did I just have a civil online discussion with someone who disagrees with some of my views? I didn't think that was possible. Thanks Denise for your civility. This is a nice read as well on the subject: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20096683-281/fcc-commissioner-bart-critics-may-be-right/
Denise Nelson August 25, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Hi Jason! You made my day, and thanks for the interesting link... Hope we "talk" again.

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