This paper explores the self-presentation and online discursive practices of grassroots hacker collectives on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict within a larger geopolitical climate of a contested globalisation agenda and a growing fear of cyber warfare. Both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian hacker groups engage in DDoS attacks, malware distribution and leaking stolen information from the opposing side. They also use social media to enter the broader political discourse around the conflict. The paper analyses the Twitter posts of both collectives to reveal key modes of online practices and key discursive themes in the context of the conflict, such as political activism, information warfare, hacker ethics and patriotism. The study elucidates how these groups use their social media presence to construct a ‘patriotic hacker’ identity for themselves, to delegitimise their opponents and ultimately, to connect to the broader populist discourse, where issues of patriotism, sovereignty and nationhood are contested.
This article is based on the author's contribution to a roundtable at the annual conference of the International Affairs Standing Committee of the Royal Irish Academy, titled ‘Retreat from Globalisation? Brexit, Trump and the New Populism’, which took place at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on 31 May 2017. This research was supported in part by funding under the 2016–17 Journal Publication Scheme of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin City University.