PC Magazine stepped a bit out of its comfort zone on Monday to cover the story of Dr. Lori Handrahan and her 4-year-old daughter Mila. Handrahan charges that her ex-husband Igor Malenko kidnapped Mila, drugged her with methamphetamines, sexually and physically abused her, and involved Mila in a state-protected child prostitution ring in Maine where the couple lived.
PC Magazine writer Sara Yin picked up the story, which she notes has gone practically unnoticed by the media for the past three years, after Anonymous, the online leaderless collective with the self-appointed goal of protecting freedom of speech through targeted hacktivist attacks, picked up the Save Mila cause, driving Internet traffic to Handrahan's blog and bringing her the attention that traditional news sources and government have long denied her.
The article, titled Anonymous Helps Distressed Mom Find Lost Child, was published on Monday online. The original version detailed Handrahan's claims regarding her ex-husband's treatment of her daughter, as well as her theory that her husband is being protected by crooked government officials who are profiting from and covering up a secret child sex ring.
The next day, however, these gruesome details were edited out, the headline was rewritten as Anonymous Joins Custody Battle, Helps Mother Find Daughter, and an editor's note explained that although the fact that Anonymous chose to intervene... [is] worthy of coverage, PC has no intention to take sides in an ongoing custody battle.
While researching the article, Yin spoke to Handrahan, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C., who comes across as frustrated and worried for her daughter but in relatively good emotional shape considering the situation she claims:
Handrahan told me that after spending three years not being taken seriously by law enforcement agents and elected officials, which she has blogged about meticulously at her website Saving Mila, she decided to go to the court of public opinion for help. She and several unnamed volunteers went to Facebook and Twitter to spread her story far and wide, in hopes of getting anyone's attention.
Last week one of her social media volunteers casually threw #Anonymous at the end of a tweet. Almost immediately, Handrahan saw her tweet, newly hashtagged with #SavingMila, retweeted by many high-profile, Anonymous-related accounts like @AnonymousIRC, @AnonCorpWatch, @AnonymousCRI (Costa Rica), and @AnonOpsSweden. Each account has several thousand followers. Traffic to her blog shot up from 200 to 2,000 hits a day and continues to surge.
PC Magazine approaches the story from the angle of the power of social media, when wielded by certain groups, in this case Anonymous, which has transformed itself from a group of merry online pranksters to a political organization while using social networking to muster what is essentially a leaderless online army. The concept of a leaderless organization is central to Anonymous, and individuals claiming responsibility for group actions to the media are often forced out. However, several Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous have gained hundreds of thousands of followers, making them the de-facto mouthpieces of the organization, at least as far as the rest of the world can see. When @AnonymousIRC (Internet Relay Chat) or @YourAnonNews say something, the world hears them.
In the same week that Anonymous threw their support behind Save Mila, Handrahan's own social media efforts have come under mysterious attack, which she describes in recent blog posts on her website. Her own Twitter account @SavingMila16, has been suspended, as have many accounts connected to the effort. YouTube videos have also been removed without any explanation given to Handrahan.
Although PC Magazine implies that they removed certain details from the article because the subject of the story was Anonymous's involvement, and not Mila herself. Still, the growing controversy around the case suggests that the website was forced to extricate itself from a heated legal battle which has gone on for three years after realizing that they may have rushed into the fray without doing all the necessary research.
Lori Handaran's website is packed with evidence for her case to the point where it becomes overwhelming to the untutored visitor. Handrahan has what appears to be a strong case and if she is right, her story is heartbreaking and deserves the immediate attention necessary to save Mila and return Lori and Mila's lives to as much normalcy as may still be possible.
But Malenko, the ex-husband, may also have a case. One of several angry comments on the PC Magazine article leads to a .pdf file titled Timeline: Malenkov vs. Handrahan, which describes Handrahan in detail as an obsessive and possessive woman who has manipulated the truth multiple times in the past in an effort to portray Malenko as being mentally incompetent.
According to Rhode Island Republican state legislator Dan Gordon, who has publicly claimed connections with Anonymous, the hacktivists are currently attempting to verify Handrahan's claims. PC Magazine spoke with Gordon twice for the article, which makes sense considering he is perhaps the only elected official who is also a member of Anonymous.
In a follow-up call Gordon told me that before he goes higher up the chain of command with Mila's case, he awaits the results of some digging being conducted by his Anonymous friends. They are examining the veracity of email headers and IP addresses to determine how much of Handrahan's story is true.
Hopefully Anonymous will have some success unearthing the truth regarding Mila, Handrahan and Melanko. At the very the hacktivist collective has helped bring attention to a long overlooked issue.