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Activism's slippery slope: Anonymous targets children's hospital

Steve Ragan | April 25, 2014
Supporters of the faceless collective known as Anonymous have taken up the cause of a young girl, after the State of Massachusetts removed her from her parents earlier this year. However, the methods used to show support may have unintended consequences, which could impact patient care.

Supporters of the faceless collective known as Anonymous have taken up the cause of a young girl, after the State of Massachusetts removed her from her parents earlier this year. However, the methods used to show support may have unintended consequences, which could impact patient care.

On Thursday, the Boston Children's Hospital confirmed that they were subjected to multiple DDoS attacks over the Easter holiday. Said attacks, which have continued throughout the week, aim to take the hospital's website offline. Similar attacks, including website defacement, have also targeted the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network. Both organizations are at the heart of a sensitive topic, child welfare and the rights of a parent.

No one person or group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks, but chatter on the Internet has put the blame for these incidents on Anonymous and those supporting OpJustina.

Anonymous in action:

OpJustina started earlier this year after supporters of Anonymous learned of Justina Pelletier, a fifteen year-old girl who was removed from her parent's care by the State of Massachusetts.

Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease (a disorder that causes loss of muscle coordination and weakness) years ago, but by all accounts lived a normal life.

Earlier this year, she was admitted to Boston Children's after getting the flu. A different team of doctors questioned the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, instead telling her parents (Lou and Linda Pelletier) that their daughter's problem was mental, diagnosing her with somatoform disorder.

Her parents disagreed, and started the process of having their daughter discharged from Boston Children's, which led to a war of words with the doctors. The heated debate over the girl's condition led to her parents being removed from the hospital by security and the Department of Children and Families being brought in.

After a series of legal maneuvers, Justina was made a ward of the state, and removed from her family's care. At issue is the controversial concept called medical child abuse.

The legal dilemma, and the family's charge of kidnapping against the state to the media, is what led Anonymous supporters to rally around the girl's cause.

Initially, Anonymous used social media and personal blogs to spread their support and draw the media's spotlight. They also setup petitions calling for the girl to be returned to her family.

The activism started in February, gaining momentum in March, but that started to slow some by the end of the month. All that changed when lawyers representing the family released a note allegedly written by Justina, stating that workers in the facility where she is staying were abusing her. At that point, OpJustina gained traction again, and the various Web-based attacks increased.

 

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