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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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In a recent piece for the LRB, Mattathias Schwartz gives an inside look at the truly scary world of carding, the practice of stealing credit card information, through a review of Mischa Glenny's new book DataMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia.

The point that I want to quibble about (although perhaps it's not a quibble; language is important) is the use of the term "hacker" throughout. This is obviously Glenny's choice, but it is one that Schwartz repeats. The point is that, in its original usage, a "hacker" was somebody who was inventive, somebody interested in open culture with a hands-on approach to learning and self-tuition. I readily admit that organizations such as FXP boards use the term "hacker" to denote the people inside their organizations who crack into systems, so I could forgive it if it were used in this way throughout.

What is galling, though, is the way these two terms are used, in the final paragraph of the review, to take a populist swipe at Mark Zuckerberg, that actually seems to result from the ignorance of the review's author over the alternative meaning of "hacker". Schwartz writes:

Mark Zuckerberg’s reference to what he calls the ‘Hacker Way’ in Facebook’s public stock filing, and particularly his directive that employees should ‘move fast and break things,’ should give pause to the millions who have trusted his company with their data.


Clearly, here, Zuckerberg is referring to "hacker" in the subcultural sense, free of illegal connotations, to denote people who want to build cool stuff and do it by being fearless in their way of trying things out. Not afraid to break things. The hacker way. Calling someone a "hacker" in this sense is an accolade and we need more hackers, for instance in the academy: like ProfHacker.

I'm no fan of Mark Zuckerberg, but it's embarrassing to read this kind of thing in the LRB from whence, I suspect, other educated readers will then parrot such inaccuracies and the dubious link made in the writing here will be perpetuated. If this is through ignorance, then why is it being published in the LRB? If it's through duplicity for the sake of point scoring, let me damn this the best way I can think of: acting like this is certainly not in the "hacker way".