Not long ago, a symbol of American freedom fell under vicious attack from an enemy who knows neither compassion nor hope. It was a day that we will never forget, and it signaled a new frontier in the struggle of this great nation. Of course I am referring to yesterday’s GoDaddy outage, which took down 53 million websites including this one. After literally threes of you contacted me about it, I spent literally minutes trying to figure out what was going on. It turns out that a series of freedom-hating routers sent bad table information that clogged the GoDaddy servers with electrons or something. It was not some douche from Anonymous, although everybody went ahead and reported that anyway.
Here’s what passes for a source in our bold new age:
Clearly, this person who claims to be “head of security” for an organization that adamantly refuses hierarchical structure and who would “like to test how the cyber security is safe” is capable of disabling one of the world’s largest web hosts. He’s got the logo and everything. The only other plausible explanation is that one of Twitter’s 250 million users is a kook—but what are the odds of that? I say we run with this guy who owns Anonymous.
To be fair, “Anonymous takes down GoDaddy” is a way better story than “GoDaddy server breaks.” The one with a spooky terrorist behind it is far more satisfying, even though the functional news content is the same. If we reductively define news as information about what is happening in places I cannot see, I shouldn’t care much whether the GoDaddy outage was caused by Anonymous or rogue data packets. The impact on my life is identical regardless. The only difference between an accident and an Act of Terrorism is that nobody ever takes responsibility for an accident.
It’s an odd distinction. CNN did not run the headline “Maintenance team responsible for GoDaddy outage,” because we accept that accidents are inevitable and senseless. We are all at the mercy of the terrorist mastermind physics. It’s kind of unnerving to think about. Maybe that’s why Anonymous Own3r was such a compelling fake for so many reporters, and why terrorism has proven such a powerful cipher.
Take your Al-Qaeda, for example. Nobody really knows how many of them there are, how their command structure works, or even what they’re capable of. They were all talk right up until they perpetrated the worst terrorist attack in American history. Then they were Cobra, and we spent the last ten years chasing them around the world despite the fact that they haven’t really done anything else. As international actors go, they’re A-ha. The difference is that every time you hear about a plane crash, you’re not like oh shit, is it A-ha?
Perhaps the most impressive thing Anonymous has done is recognize this phenomenon and, in their own weird way, parody it. Say what you will about that amorphous collection of script kiddies, poseurs and IT misanthropes; they understand the power of narrative.
For most people, computers are mysterious and scary. We all know someone who attributes every malfunction of his PC to a virus. The arbitrary misfires of complicated technology are less frightening when we can attribute them to an evil force. Anonymous is to global DNS registry as virus is to mom’s Outlook settings. Bonus, possibly unjustified analogy: inevitable cock-ups of worldwide computer network are to Anonymous as terrifying fragility of life in modern world is to Al-Qaeda.
An accident is a little less tragic with a culprit, is what I’m saying here. I was much happier when I thought Anonymous wrecked GoDaddy yesterday, because it meant they probably would not do it tomorrow. I can expect no such guarantee from a router. By the same token, how worried would you be if the World Trade Center towers just fell down ten years ago because of structural flaws? There are worse things than Al-Qaeda and Anonymous. Pretty much the whole background world is animated by worse things than that.