Anonymous are in the Times Magazine top 100 most influential people in the world, and the Hacktivist (hacker activist) group has struck again. However, unlike their previous modus operandi of launching denial-of-service attacks on government, corporate or religious websites, the Indonesian branch of Anonymous attacked over 150 Australian small business owners’ websites. Why? They are upset about the recent claims Australia has set up a spy HQ in Indonesia

Amongst the 150 Australian small business owners affected, there was a bouncy castle company in Perth, a grout cleaner in Brisbane and a dry cleaner in Melbourne. When you click on their website link, instead of seeing details about their company, you’ll get the message ‘Stop Spying on Indonesia’.

The Australian government has been taking a lot of heat through various diplomatic channels since news of the Indonesian Spy Central broke out and the Department of Foreign Affairs has been trying to repair this damaged relationship with Indonesia. As a group of hacktivists fighting for freedom of information, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and association, it is clear why the Indonesian branch of Anonymous was motivated to act on this issue.

Similar incidents have occurred in South East Asia over the past year. In the Philippines, at the height of anti-government protests, Anonymous posted a message on at least five government department websites calling the public to join a revolution against corruption. In Singapore, as a protest against the latest government proposals to implement an internet licensing framework (as it is seen as oppressive government control), Anonymous attacked several government and corporate websites in one day. In Brisbane, after calling the latest anti-Bikey laws ‘creeping fascism’, Anonymous openly warned Mayor Campbell Newman to be aware of future attacks.

There is a pattern: the targets are all government bodies. So why did Anonymous Indonesia decide to attack the websites of 150 Australian small business owners? Did they have anything to do with DFAT’s plans to put Australian Spy Central in Indonesia? I doubt it.

Like them or loathe them, Anonymous appear to be here to stay. And sometimes we do need activists groups to remind the public that our rights and freedoms are being taken away from us by intrusive government legislations. Considering how extensive internet surveillance and phone tapping is these days by the US National Security Agency, as revealed by Edward Snowden, one cannot deny that the worries and issues raised by Anonymous might carry some weight.

Nonetheless, before shooting someone with a gun, one should being aiming it at the right person. Yes, citizens can be upset and frustrated about government control, and when that happens, they can take it to the streets. However we do not often see disgruntled protestors going into a kebab joint, stealing everything and then burning the store down in the name of freedom of speech, do we?

I have been saying this to my friends who work for NGOs and activists groups: your moral high ground and your ideals are not enough to get public attention. In order to get the public on your side, you need to make sure that your operations are executed in a manner well accepted by the public too.