The group "Censure" is not-so-loosely based on the hacktivist group Anonymous. This is how I imagined my meeting with one of the members would go. I wasn't sure about the story at first, but it's no as bad as I thought, upon second reading. Enjoy :]
For once, AOL had been good for something. I skimmed the banalities of the entertainment and political news snippets, ignored the thirty-seven messages of spam awaiting me in my inbox, and clicked hurriedly though the top stories. Some actress was caught out in a hemline ten years too young for her. Some Hollywood nobody was spotted on a beach, frolicking with someone who definitely wasn’t his new wife. A family got lose in a corn maze and called the police for help. I didn’t want to live on the planet anymore.
When you’ve given up all hope in humanity (not honestly – maybe enough to blog about it), the only logical next step in life is to find the one thing that hands you back your faith on a silver platter. And that’s just when I found them, the way you’re supposed to. A hacker group had uncovered some dark Internet secrets; it sounded promising. I clicked the link and waited for the wi-fi to allow the page to load in its entirety. I pictured Lisbeth Salander, Penelope Garcia, Neo – computer hackers were ninjas, keystrokes their weapon of choice, breaking into corrupt corporate mainframes and breaking down stereotypes in every walk of life. The page loaded and I ignored the video at the top to begin reading.
I was introduced to Censure. The group had uncovered a child porn ring and infiltrated it, leaving their apparently signature calling cards across the site – videos from “To Catch a Predator,” mock posts that turned out to be tirades against the sick fucks who frequented the site. And then they ripped the site to shreds, stole the member list, found all their personal information, and turned the dark net site and the list of names over to the feds. “Be ye not deceived. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” I fell in love.
That very night, tucked away in my apartment against the Boston December raging outside, I started doing my homework on the group. They regularly posted videos on various YouTube accounts, supposedly run by various members of the anonymous organization, to announce their movements. They wrote about their exploits for websites, for national newspapers, for their own pleasure. They snuck notes onto popular humor sites and terrified message boarders with their aggressive attacks on right-wing politics and the web companies they called “gaudy” and “corrupt.” They protected free speech, the rights of the everyday citizen, the lonely, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the depressed. People called them terrorists; I called them superheroes.
I alternated reading about Censure with watching Criminal Minds reruns on A&E, emailing my parents about heading home for the holidays the following week, and pretending I was a hacker. After too long slapping the keyboard to prove my skills on Hacker Typer, I set down to do what I do best about the things I fall in love with – blog about it. I had seen enough to know that my glowing review of Censure was neither entirely accurate nor unbiased, but I didn’t care. People hated them, the way I hated black licorice. And if any of my thirty-nine followers felt the need to hate on my new favorite individuals, I was fully prepared to defend my masterful ode to online heroes.
No comments came, as it were. I talked over the story with one of my roommates in passing the next day, and we agreed on the activist group’s champion status. Even cross-posting to Twitter, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, anyway, so I went about my life as if Censure didn’t exist. That’s probably how they would have wanted it, anyway.
I went home for a few weeks to celebrate the holidays in New York with my parents and, when I got back to Boston, there were a few inches of fresh powder on top of the dirty snow in the streets and the sidewalks were treacherous. With my bag over my shoulder, I took the stairs up and out of the T stop carefully. The ten minute walk to my apartment took half an hour, shivering in a down parka and treating lightly over city slush.
I would be returning to an empty home, the first of the three of us who shared the apartment to return to Boston. I could see the front door and our second-floor windows ahead, all dark and frosted over. I hadn’t passed many people on the walk and only one older woman strolled past like she was wearing cleats instead of those fancy heeled boots. And there was a man in a black sweatshirt coming down the stairs outside the building next to mine, the hood pulled up and tightened to protect him from the wind.
The man slowed as we passed each other in opposite directions. I offered a shaky smile. In response, I could just hear a man’s voice saying from within the sweatshirt, “Alexandra Taylor.”
I went numb, my frozen nose and fingers forgotten in favor of the internal organs suddenly in a frenzy. “Yes?” I whispered. The plan hadn’t been to sound quite so wimpy, but I went with it.
“We’re glad to have you as a fan,” the sweatshirt continued. “Any press is good press, sure, but it’s nice to have some support for once.”
“With a little more research, we’d invite you to write a few more pieces about us.” The man shook his head, light snow falling off his hood. “Damn, it’s cold.”
“I really don’t understand,” I said, as if it weren’t obvious. I felt my hands shaking and hoped it wasn’t my whole body swaying in fear.
“It’s better that way.”
“Have we met?”
“Not officially, no. But you know us. And we know you.” I imagined the sweatshirt smiling, because his tone seemed to imply it. “Sorry to sound so cryptic. It’s a little silly. But I just wanted to let you know that we don’t screw around – we are watching. And we don’t mind if you want to make a few more posts about us, if you find out anything that interests you. But we do like to keep up a certain level of mystique, so, maybe…just not too much blogging.”
I widened my eyes and could only nod. This was surreal enough; I didn’t need a generous helping of melodramatic unveiling to make this evening worse.
“I read the rest of your blog.” The man raised a gloved hand to his hood and coughed into it. The cloud of his breath rose into the winter air. “I liked it.”
“I didn’t think anyone knew it existed,” I replied, for lack of better conversational skills. “I figured all my followers were spam or just waiting for more Dawson’s Creek edits.”
“Mostly. But there are a few good eggs.”
“So, I should stick to the Creek?”
“I think that’s where your wit lies, yes.” He was smiling again, I was sure. But the man made no move to shake my hand or pat me on the shoulder as he gave a curt nod and turned to walk off down the deserted sidewalk. “Take care of yourself, Alexandra Taylor.”
“Seems a little rude that you know all about me and I don’t know anything about you,” I called after him, before I could remember it was eleven at night on a Sunday or keep myself from yelling at a stranger who had waited for me to come home to talk to me about my Tumblr.
He turned back towards me, walking backwards without fear of slipping on the ice. He had to have been a Bostonian native. “Of course you know,” he replied. “Who else would we be?”
He turned back around and the wind picked up, tossing unsecure snow from the tree branches and whirling snow drifts against parked cars and building facades. The man in the black sweatshirt vanished into the night and I sat heavily on the steps for a long time, before the world made sense again and I could go inside to pretend a gang of cyber activists wasn’t interested in my blog.