The Null Device

Vigilantes vs. spammers

Lycos has scrapped a screensaver which launched denial-of-service attacks against spammers, after apparently rendering some spam-advertised sites unreachable. I'm in two minds about this: on one hand, as spammers have no respect for propriety, one could argue it's a case of live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword. On the other hand, vigilante action can turn into mob rule, with unpopularity standing in for guilt. What's to stop, for example, a right-wing warblog distributing a screensaver that does a DDOS on the Guardian Online, thousands of PCs in the Red States launching attacks on Planned Parenthood (in fact, I suspect the anti-abortion movement will adopt this tactic sooner or later, given that, to them, it's about saving lives), or radical-left groups using similar tactics to silence those they deem ideologically unsound? Indeed, if such tactics become mainstream, we could look forward to a future where people install cause-affiliated DDOS software on their computers as they once wore badges or ribbons, and debating one's opponents taking a back seat to the far less taxing and more fulfilling activity of shutting them down.

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