Ballentine, Brian D. “Hacker Ethics & Firefox Extensions: Writing and Teaching the ‘Grey’ Areas of Web 2.0.” Computers and Composition Online.Special Issue (2009). Print.
- B. starts by trying to draw out the relationship/link between the multiple definitions of writing in the new media/web 2.0 age and the motivations of a hacker. For B., a hacker is simply someone who circumvents limitations through creative solutions. Because of the relative ease of use of Web 2.0 technologies, B. claims that we are all increasingly “hacking” our online experiences and environments.
- Part of the reason Web 2.0 has been so successful is because giants like Google have been fairly open with their data and technologies, allowing development to occur beyond their institutional influence by freely distributing their code. This draws attention to the fact that hacker ethics (Information Must Be Free) and commercial profit are not incommensurable.
- Because of the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools, B. is arguing that we must take the hacker ethics found on the internet and extend them into the composition classroom. To do this, B. first sketches out how we are all essentially “hackers” when we write in digital spaces. Next, by drawing out the relationship between web 2.0 technologies and open source ethics B. focuses his discussion on the interrelationship among academic integrity, plagiarism, and ethical hacking practices. Finally, B. takes two particular Firefox extensions of examples of how writing and hacker ethics can come together in the composition classroom.
- B. relies heavily on Lessig’s articulation of read-write-culture in this piece. He uses it to sketch how “open” development became the primary development mechanism for Web 2.0 technologies. He uses Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar to draw attention to the open-source development model of Linus Torvalds’ work with Linux. This model encourages sharing and further development for multiple purposes. . . resulting in the open-source adage “open source software automatically gets better the more people use it.”
- At its heart, web 2.0 is really a separation of form and content for digital texts. While web 1.0 might have been all about codifying the form (via a language like .html), web 2.0 does away with form and instead uses metadata (like .xml) to descriptively work with content (without dictating form). The result is contents travelling in multiple mediums without respect to any one format.
- B. draws attention to ethical hacking to demonstrate how the need for permission to hack mirrors how plagiarism policies overdetermine production in composition classrooms, leading to what Lessig has called “permissions driven culture” or a culture wherein the need for permissions becomes a barrier to creativity and innovation.
- Perhaps paradoxically, NCTE and CCC have adopted a very open-handed attitude toward open-source technologies, advocating their use in the face of increasingly pronounced plagiarism fears. Though this may be because of the budgetary advantages of open source, B. claims (via Geisler) that the adoption of open-source ideology is really a reflection of the construction of knowledge in academic circles.
- Different ethical hues via hats in hacker ethics:
o White hat: crack their own systems of systems of a client who is well aware and has given consent to all of their activities
o Gray hat: The middle ground between white and black, a gray hat hacker is typically motivated by the correct reasons (and attempts to always enact them); however, this hacker sometimes engages in activities that is “less than noble.” B. sees this as analogous to the composition student/scholar who remixes a range of materials to come to new knowledge. This means enacting your own “agenda” when considering to hack or not to hack.
o Black hat: people who sabotage and steal confidential content without the knowledge of the content owner.
- Using Web Developer and Greasemonkey B. then shows how acts of Gray Hat hacking can enable less sponsored, user-centered, user-directed web experiences; thereby absolving the user from (at least some) complicity in the often sponsored and morally dubious information systems they move through on the web.