The freewheeling, rabble-rousing Internet hacktivist collective known as Anonymous thus far has played little or no role in determining the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election. With the exception of partnering with the Occupy Movement in an attempt to mobilize voters and hold politicians accountable, Anonymous has been strangely absent from the political scene for the past six months. (For now, campaign managers have relied on, ahem, elected officials rather than Anonymous to supply the schoolboy dirty tricks.)
In an election that is still too tight to call and that will likely go down to the final days, is it possible that Anonymous could hack the election and play a decisive role in choosing who will become our next President?
There are three basic scenarios that describe how Anonymous could hack the presidential election. The base case scenario would have Anonymous up to its old tricks – coordinating massive denial-of-service attacks on campaign and Super PAC websites, defacing candidate websites, stirring up the Occupy crowd and releasing closely-guarded official documents into the wild. While the DOS attacks would be annoying, they would not greatly disrupt the rhythm and flow of the campaign cycle. Defacing websites could be more troublesome, assuming that they disparage donors or potential voting blocs that the candidate is trying to sway. The release of documents – such as Romney’s tax returns or anything supporting Donald Trump’s bizarre claims about President Obama– could be explosive and could persuade voters to view their candidate in a completely different light.
From here, it only gets more shadowy. Members of Anonymous could hack into candidate social media accounts and hijack the identity of the candidates. A Twitter account claiming to be President Barack Obama, for example, could start tweeting bizarre comments about Bain or launching personal attacks on Romney and his family. A Facebook account claiming to be Mitt Romney could start making outlandish comments about the Mormon faith. These social media hacks would be roughly similar to the way that Major League Baseball was briefly hacked this summer. Yankees superstar Jeter was briefly transformed into a transgendered Minnie Mantlez, while the Chicago White Sox Facebook account said it appreciated the support of Obama, but “we’re voting for Romney. #MuslimPresident.”
The worst-case scenario is so dark that it’s difficult to contemplate. This scenario would go far beyond annoying DOS attacks or embarrassing documents or hijacked identities – it would engage in activities that are clearly criminal in nature. Hackers could freeze (or empty) bank accounts of the respective political campaigns, making it impossible to run TV or Internet advertising during the stretch run of the campaign. They could even tamper with actual election results – or, in the event of a recount of any kind – stir up chaos in the minds of voters.
Anonymous has already engaged in similar types of hacking activities this summer. From its hacktivist roots, Anonymous now seems to be getting deeper into mainstream political activism. Rather than remaining a shadowy presence using Internet back channels, it is now coming to the forefront. Take this July’s Mexican 2012 general election, for example. Amidst widespread allegations of fraud and corruption, Anonymous Mexico sided with the leftist candidate for presidency in the general election, working to uncover cases of electoral fraud in a voting process that was called “filthy.”
So is there something else lurking in the shadows that we can’t even fathom? Last November, Anonymous promised to hack the U.S. presidential election. This spring, a branch of Anonymous called for revolution in America. In 2012, Anonymous has displayed a willingness to battle head-to-head with the FBI and Justice Department. Who knows? With less than a 100 days to go before the general election, Anonymous might just turn out to be more powerful than any Super PAC in getting Obama or Romney elected President.