Jake Davis

Digital Activism – Jake Davis

You cannot arrest an idea


Jake Davis


LulzSecOn July 27th 2011, Jake Davis was visited at his home in the Shetland Islands, a remote archipelago of Scotland that lie north-east of mainland Britain, by 6 police officers from London and arrested. Aged 18, Jake was accused and subsequently charged with a number of offences including unauthorised computer access and conspiracy to carry out a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency’s website.


Jake, as it transpired, had been playing with online activist groups including Anonymous and LulzSec, the latter being more akin to a team of digital pranksters sailing the waves of cyberspace rather than the kind of cyber-terrorists that certain parts of the media would have the public believe.


Under his online pseudonym , “Topiary” (@atopiary on Twitter), Jake came to prominence amongst the hacker community after participating in a live radio phone-in discussion with a member of the Westboro Baptist Church whilst their site was hacked and replaced with a message from Anonymous. The Westboro Baptist Church is widely recognised as a “hate group” for its extreme ideologies especially against the gay community as well as picketing the funerals of children and US military personnel. In this regard, whilst illegal in terms of the law, the live hack of the web site could be regarded as an act of protest within the digital domain against the proliferation of online hate speech.

According to Davis, LulzSec was formed during a moment of boredom within an online chat room with fellow users none of whom had met in the physical world nor knew each others real identity. The groups objective was initially to rail against what they saw as the absurdity of online marketing by using the digital world against itself. They launched a number of notable campaigns including the exposure of Sony Playstation’s lack of security for users confidential information, posting a fictitious story on the PBS site about rapper Tupac Shakur being found alive in New Zealand and hacking the site of The Sun newspaper in the UK where they posted a spoof story suggesting that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, had taken his own life as a result of the “phone hacking scandal” that had implicated his own organisation.


Each successful campaign brought the LulzSec group notoriety across global mass-media and, as if to prove the point about digital marketing, their @LulzSec Twitter account managed by Jake Davis accumulated more than 400,000 followers. Legality aside one can only admire the chutzpah of a group of teenagers using their laptops to create mischief within a digital world barely understood by their parents generation.


LulzSec only lasted a matter of months before the arrest of Davis but already there was disagreement within the amorphous group with the suggestion that government hired hackers had infiltrated the group to encourage less whimsical campaigns and more carnage.


After his arrest Jake was banned from using the internet for 2 years, wore a location tagging device that enforced a curfew and was sentenced to 37 days in Feltham Young Offenders Institute, a prison more commonly used to accommodate young people with a history of committing violent crime or narcotic distribution.


The inclusion of my interview with Jake Davis within a book about learning in a connected world is to give voice to the kind of learner whom we almost never hear from in the discourse about education particularly when we discuss digital. So often the young people of Jakes generation are described as apathetic and disengaged from the society around them. Whilst western nations describe the transformative effect of digital platforms within emerging democracies and, for example, the “Arab Spring” the flip side is that they are not prepared for protest or even pranks within the emergent digital economy. The brightest minds of Jakes generation are now actively nurtured and recruited by our respective intelligence agencies to commit acts of espionage and civil surveillance on behalf of their nations. So by interviewing Jake I wanted to understand more about the world in which current and future generations are expected to grow and demonstrate dissent.


My full interview with Jake will be published in the Learning {RE}imagined book later this year but in the meantime here is a short clip where Jake describes his experiences of schools that lead him to cyberspace.



Further viewing – Courtesy of BBC Newsnight