In response to the Paris attacks, hacker collective Anonymous has promised a "cyberwar" against the terrorist group ISIS, promising to expose and force the suspension of sympathetic Twitter accounts and bring down ISIS websites and IT capabilities. The problem being that these efforts will almost certainly be counterproductive to actually beating ISIS.
We've addressed the problem with hackivism, the use of computer hacking in support of social and political causes, before. And while there would be some use in Anon's exposing the dark, racist sides of corrupt public officials, ISIS isn't that kind of enemy. The group and its members aren't exactly ashamed of who they are and what they do, and no amount of public exposure is going to change that. Hell, they like that kind of public exposure.
Anonymous is understandably pissed off about the Paris attacks, but the thinking behind their cyberwar against ISIS is incredibly, even dangerously short-term. And fallacious, short-term-thinking is almost inherent to Anonymous and hacktivism.
The problem is, the further you get down the into the darker parts of the internet, the more reactionary things become. The tactics of groups like Anonymous, the various -chans, and other hacker groups, when they are faced with an opposing force or someone tha disagrees with them is basically this: Shut up.
That's what the DDoSing is for, that's what the doxxing is for, that's what exposing KKK membership lists and getting ISIS-related Twitter accounts suspended is for. Some people want other people to be quiet and they're using their skills to get that to happen. Which is kind of noble when you're going up against a group like ISIS, but it's also completely misguided.
The thing is, anyone even vaguely familiar with intelligence gathering knows that the easiest way to get more information from your opponent is to just let him talk. And that's what they're doing on social media. ISIS may have a very sophisticated propaganda apparatus, but they also have a lot of stupid people, and those stupid people have been very useful.
An errant photo by a 'morn' on social media by an ISIS fighter lead to successful airstrikes against a terrorist headquarters. The various social media accounts of ISIS sympathizers are a fountain of information for the various Western intelligence-gathering agencies. As Tom McKay states in a Mic.com post on Anonymous' anti-ISIS activism, "Is this a good idea? Maybe, but there's a good chance the U.S. government doesn't want this help."
He goes on to cite a Mashable post, titled "U.S. Intelligence Officials Want ISIL Fighters to Keep Tweeting" (if that doesn't tell you enough), where an official from a large social media company says that intelligence officials want terrorist-related social media accounts to stay up, because they are watching them. McKay noted the following: "Intelligence expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen [stated] One Islamic State militant complained on Twitter that others had not met him at a designated Syrian Internet cafe."
Gathering this kind of intelligence and confirming that it is useful requires patience. But Anonymous doesn't work that way. Because they are a collective whose attention can be swayed by current events and rapidly changing situations, it has a tendency to do its thing for a while (take down some sites, expose some private info) and then move on to other things.
But ISIS is a sophisticated, well-trained, and well-entrenched terrorist organization. As powerful as Anonymous can be, their current strategy isn't going to accomplish much, if anything at all.