Even anarchists serve up altruistic punishment

In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of attention paid to a group of highly capable hackers who call themselves LulzSec, having broken into websites as diverse as Sony, Nintendo, the CIA, and the US Senate, among others. They recently disbanded after a 50 day spree that garnered a great deal of media attention. The group has said that they do it for the fun, or Lulz of it, rather than having any particular political agenda as other groups such as Anonymous have done. Apparently, this has not been sitting well with other netizens who feel that some hacktivist norms have been violated. And so a group calling themselves Web Ninjas have turned the tables on LulzSec, publishing the ‘DOx’ (hacker slang for personal information) of LulzSec members, effectively outing them. This is, of course, dangerous, and LulzSec has predictably threatened revenge.

What is interesting about this chain of events is that the norms are ones that have arisen amongst people who otherwise countenance hacking, a form of behaviour that is at a minimum an intrusion on the privacy of others. But societies develop in all sorts of ways, and what we are witnessing is a form of altruistic punishment playing out amongst competing groups of underground netizens. Altruistic punishment is a form of norm violation enforcement where an individual, or group of individuals, is willing to put themselves at some disadvantage in order to enforce what is considered a social more; in this case, it is the easily anticipated revenge that represents the disadvantage to the Web Ninjas. The behaviour has been a favourite of neuroeconomics, and is thought to be an important part of the social glue that holds cooperating societies together. It appears that norm violations grate on us deeply, whether in the real world or out there in the anarchistic universe of cyberspace.

Image credit: er0n22