The Anonymous hacktivists have the backing of hordes of loyal supporters who, at the drop of a hat, heed the group's call to arms.
In the case of the most recent campaign to boycott Netflix, however, it seems the online activists may have acted without having all the facts. Twitter is ablaze right now with people tweeting about joining the "OpBoycottNetflix" campaign, boasting about cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.
A posting yesterday (April 9) from an Anonymous' feed sums up the hackers' motivations: "@netflix supports #SOPA so we'll #OpBoycottNetflix! Take our Internet back, cancel your #Netflix account!"
Anonymous believes Netflix's new super political action committee (PAC), FLIXPAC, supports the the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a piece of controversial legislation that critics (Anonymous included) said would essentially break the Internet by blocking U.S. access to foreign websites accused of hosting pirated video and audio.
But where did Anonymous get this idea about FLIXPAC? Is it true?
Since Twitter is the battleground on which this war is being fought, Netflix confirmed through its own Twitter feed that its super PAC does not support SOPA, and that Anonymous trained its weapons without first doing its homework.
Another posting yesterday, retweeted by Netflix, reads "FLIXPAC was NOT set up to support SOPA/PIPA. Instead, we engage on issues like net neutrality, bandwidth caps, UBB [usage-based billing] and VPPA [the Video Privacy Protection Act]."
The story linked to in the tweet is from SiliconBeat, which clarifies that the source that sparked the campaign to boycott Netflix was a story posted on the webiste of Russia Today (RT), a Moscow-based government-funded television news channel often criticized for spreading anti-American propaganda.
The Russia Today piece got it right that SOPA, which was a House bill, and PIPA (Protecting Intellectual Property Act), its Senate counterpart, are essentially dead.
But it linked Netflix to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a current bill that would make it easier for private companies and the government to share information about cybersecurity and data breaches.
Not surprisingly, Anonymous and other digital libertarians are against CISPA as well, and have described it as "SOPA-like." That's even though CISPA has nothing to do with overseas media piracy.
On Saturday (April 7), the Washington, D.C.-based online political newspaper Politico ran a small piece about Netflix creating its own PAC. The story referred to SOPA and PIPA as examples of legislation that technology companies lobby congressmen about, but did not say that Netflix supported either one. The Politico piece did not mention CISPA at all.
Two days later, Russia Today took the Politico story, added several paragraphs of speculation and innuendo, and gave it the headline "Netflix Creates Pro-SOPA Super-PAC?"
Russia Today has gained credibility among Anonymous members by running televised and Internet stories sympathetic to the hacktivist movement, especially when Anonymous is attacking Western government targets.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment from SecurityNewsDaily.
Chris O'Brien, from SiliconBeat, examined Netflix's super PAC application, registered April 5, which he found to be "pretty benign," with "no mention of taking any positions on SOPA or any other issues."
The online news site Techdirt, which was instrumental in organizing tech industry opposition to SOPA, backed O'Brien and blamed RT for playing "a game of bad reporter telephone" that (wrongly) fueled Anonymous' campaign.
"I don't know what's up with the folks at RT," Techdirt's Mike Masnick wrote. "While their TV reporting can be quite good, their online reporting is abysmal at times. They clearly exaggerate stories or write from a position of ignorance."