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If hashtags were rice grains ...
September 11, 2012 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Jake Davis, aka Topiary, was part of LulzSec. He was 18 when he was arrested in the Shetland islands on July 27 2011, after what The Guardian describes as 'one of the biggest manhunts on the planet'. He is currently on bail in the UK, but faces the possibility of extradition to the USA and several decades in prison there. As part of his bail conditions, he is barred from going online. Here, he describes what that is like.

Bonus links:
Anonymous: behind the masks of the cyber insurgents (Guardian)
Cosmo, the Hacker ‘God’ Who Fell to Earth (Wired) - an unrelated but similar hacker facing jail
Topiary on twitter
Previous mefi thread when other members of LulzSec were caught, March 2012
posted by memebake (35 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
FREE KEVI... oh... nevermind.
posted by wcfields at 3:32 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Reads like it was written for the parole board.
posted by echo target at 3:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


People often will say anything to make the torture stop.
posted by perhapses at 3:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sleep is now tranquil and uninterrupted and books seem far more interesting. The paranoia has certainly vanished. I can only describe this sensation as the long-awaited renewal of a previously diminished attention span.

Either that, or now that you've been busted you can stop running scared?
posted by chavenet at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would be very difficult to go through everyday life without an internet connection. A few years ago I was laid off from my job, and they took away my Blackberry. The next week I traveled to a strange city with a dumb phone. There was a windstorm and all of the flights and ferry connections were canceled. I had absolutely no way to figure out what was going on, and couldn't even find a Yellow Pages to use at coffee shops or whatever.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:45 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and all that porn not staring you in the eyes!...oh, my...that in itself should constitute punishment for any misdemeanor or felony
posted by Postroad at 3:52 PM on September 11, 2012


I went without Internet access for 30 years once. I barely noticed its absence.
posted by msalt at 3:56 PM on September 11, 2012 [29 favorites]


If hashtags were rice grains, do you know how many starving families we could feed? Neither do I – I can't Google it.

Funny.
posted by hanoixan at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just read the article about "Cosmo," who is not so much a hacker as just a con-man--how do major security companies not have people infiltrating these little circles, which communicate online, and discovering holes so as to close them faster? Or do they?
posted by resurrexit at 3:59 PM on September 11, 2012


The thing this article most reminds me of is the fact that the internet is very much a choose your own adventure.

Many of my close friends seem to experience an entirely different internet than I do; it feels like there should be different words for these experiences.

Still, I would be very sad without the internet, particularly metafilter.
posted by poe at 4:01 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


The accompanying longer Guardian article Anonymous: behind the masks of the cyber insurgents is pretty good - it covers the recent history of Anonymous and the reporter seems to have a good grasp of how it evolved. It also has bits of an interview with post-internet Jake/Topiary.
When Sabu, the Anonymous turncoat, was intercepted by the FBI, he disappeared offline for 24 hours, and when he came back his story didn't quite hang together. "I was completely suspicious of him," says Jake. "I was just too stupid to do anything about it. The idea that there was a group of Feds out to get me is the kind of stuff that happens in films. And I'm from the Shetland Islands. The FBI aren't going to be using one of my friends to spy on me. That happens in American action films, it is not real life. And it turns out that this is exactly what happened."
posted by memebake at 4:04 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


They locked away his online connection... and freed his soul.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:08 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing this article most reminds me of is the fact that the internet is very much a choose your own adventure.
This is a fantastic observation. It's funny that every time I sit down at an empty chrome window I fire up a collection of sites - email, social networks, forums, news sites - that is totally different to those I'm close to. My internet usage habits have changed so much over the 10 years that I've been actively online - forum accounts built up and then abandoned due to disinterest. My online life 5 years ago looked totally different to that of today.

It is nice to get away from the internet for a while. Grab something interesting to read or some friends and some board games. The time-sucking news-reading nature of the internet isn't particularly fulfilling. I say this after spending most of the last 12 hours sitting in front of a computer...
posted by leo_r at 4:16 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


If-hashtags-were-rice-grains

Hashtags?

Look - if you don't remember the advance of B-News and using the large memory model on a 286 running SCO ... ya sure you know 'the Internet'?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:16 PM on September 11, 2012


MetaFilter: The paranoia has certainly vanished.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:32 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reads like it was written by Alex from A Clockwork Orange after watching a few educational films.
posted by jet_manifesto at 4:52 PM on September 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Reads like someone who stepped away from the internet, tbh. I'm happy for him.
posted by ead at 4:57 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Does anyone know how this is monitored or enforced? Can I use SMS? iMessage? Can I call someone on my cell phone? Can I ask someone to download a bunch of files and give them to me on a USB key? Can I ask a friend to post something for me (obviously yes, or we wouldn't be reading his essay)? If so, all this does is raise his latency. I had to use a satellite modem once, so I know his pain.
posted by neustile at 5:03 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


do major security companies not have people infiltrating these little circles, which communicate online, and discovering holes so as to close them faster? Or do they?

There were several threads last year about security company HB Gary's adventures with Anonymous.

Not everyone agrees that they were acting in the best interests of anyone but HB Gary though.
posted by sneebler at 5:06 PM on September 11, 2012


diminished attention span

Can we stop once and for all with this? I've never seen or heard of any scientific evidence for the existence of an "attention span," but common sense tells us that life just doesn't work that way. A lack of stimuli messes you up- look at people who have been in solitary confinement.

Why anyone would think being exposed to many interesting things would hinder your ability to pay attention is beyond me. In every other aspect of life, practice makes you better, not worse. It's like thinking Usain Bolt would struggle to take a leisurely stroll.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:23 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't touch a computer for several years under somewhat similar circumstances. I was even more paranoid, I figured I was under surveillance at all times and would be hauled off at any moment. I even started college as a chemistry major. Eventually the SS gave me my stuff back, so I figured they gave up. They had investigated for something like 4-5 years and I was never even charged.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:34 PM on September 11, 2012


No, it's like saying someone who's practiced eating a lot of sweet snacks might have done so at some cost to their enjoyment of subtle flavours.

Practice makes you good at what you practiced, not any old related thing.
posted by ead at 5:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


the innocent chatroom palaver

The internet taught me a new word!
posted by eugenen at 5:57 PM on September 11, 2012


the innocent chatroom palaver

The internet taught me a new word!


Hey, I knew that word because of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Screw you, ex-boyfriends!
posted by Kloryne at 6:18 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Not referring to you specifically eugenen. I'm old enough to be your... aunt.)
posted by Kloryne at 6:21 PM on September 11, 2012


Being required by the court to live with his mother in the middle of nowhere probably reduces the stresses of life a little as well. This article doesn't mention how he would manage job hunting (for a professional career, not a bar job) or attending college without the ability to use a computer or the internet.
posted by jacalata at 6:47 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went a little over 6 months, back in 2009 or so. It was excruciating, and I still used the computer to pay bills & stuff -- it was just an idle-time ban. I get the bits about attention span, things flashing in front of your closed eyelids, the nervousness and the sleep problems, though. Those got better last time around, and while I've policed myself a little bit better over the last 2 years, they're definitely getting worse again. Staring into the bright rectangle is not without consequences, whatever its benefits.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:29 PM on September 11, 2012


Sabu Gets 6-Month Sentencing Delay for Continuing to Help Feds
posted by homunculus at 9:21 PM on September 11, 2012


Why anyone would think being exposed to many interesting things would hinder your ability to pay attention is beyond me.

too long;didn't read
posted by saber_taylor at 10:43 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I find interesting about this:

1) How eloquent Topiary is. The longer Guardian article describes how he had a difficult childhood in a very remote part of the world, has completely bypassed normal education (he has no qualifications whatsoever) and yet his talents (he seems to have played a sortof 'communications officer' role within LulzSec) were nurtured by the internet.

2) How taking the internet away from him has completely changed his being. It was always obvious that the Anonymous hive-mind was only possible because of the internet. But what Topiary is saying here is that internet addiction essentially created his persona. So then the Anonymous hive-mind starts to look like an emergent phenomena created by the internet, rather than just something that was facilitated by the internet. That's a demonstration of the power of memes in the original Dawkins sense of the word, rather than the lolcat sense.

3) The recurring pattern of young, talented people, unrecognised by formal education systems, getting into hacking, and how simple high jinx with online gaming hacks can over time escalate into international criminal notoriety without them having to leave their bedrooms. Turn off the computer and they blinkingly start to realise they got carried away, but their lives are ruined.*

* Topiary (in the guardian article) doesn't yet seem to think his life is ruined, and sees prison as an opportunity to read lots of books, but I'm not sure he'll be able to retain that optimism.
posted by memebake at 5:49 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


""Living in the Shetlands, I didn't understand the impact of what we were doing," he says"

The Shetlands? :/
posted by Transparent Yak at 3:45 PM on September 12, 2012


3) The recurring pattern of young, talented people, unrecognised by formal education systems, getting into hacking, and how simple high jinx with online gaming hacks can over time escalate into international criminal notoriety without them having to leave their bedrooms. Turn off the computer and they blinkingly start to realise they got carried away, but their lives are ruined.

This really resonates for me. Non-technical troll/hacker-whacking is a fairly regular task for me on one of my hobby sites, and almost invariably when we track them down, they're teenaged kids, kids who if you saw them in real life would be nondescript and act normal or even laughable, but who when you sit them down in front of a computer turn into these whirling dervishes of lulz and attacks. Things are so easy to do when you're sitting in an IRC room with thirty other people who all think it's hilarious for you to publish that password dump, or hack that government website, and when your social circle is made up entirely of those people, I can only imagine that there's a voice in your head going "Well if it was really a bad thing to do, someone would point it out, and no one has!" And then next thing you know, it turns out that no, it wasn't so much "funny" to hack the CIA as it was an "oh shit, in the real world that matters. Why didn't anyone point out that we're not actually invulnerable?" event.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 4:59 PM on September 12, 2012


badgermushroomSNAKE: Despite the name, I don't think that Lulz are about hilarity. I think they are about power. Weev, the troll profiled in the NYT, didn't stay up juiced on adrenaline all night because he was amused. It was because they had power over others, imo.
posted by saber_taylor at 6:34 PM on September 12, 2012


Yeah, saber_taylor, that's a good point about lulz (as opposed to lols). In my mind, lulz have an undertone of nastiness and advantage-taking - one-upmanship - that good old fashioned lols don't. Which is what makes these people so unpleasant (or at least, prone to being unpleasant) - things stop being genuinely funny and write-off-able in the real world when they pass the point of nastiness and go into real-world harm. And I think that's sort of a line that's lost when you're surrounded by the groupthink of an Anonymous, etc. It stops being clear that there are differences between lols and lulz.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 7:36 PM on September 12, 2012


Anonymous’ Barrett Brown Raided by FBI During Online Chat
posted by homunculus at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2012


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