Anonymous: Modern Day Cyber Anarchy
[Author: Nicole D'Angelo]
The Internet is possibly the most anarchic space to ever exist. Everyone is faceless and known only by a screen name, thus creating both equality and anonymity among everyone on the Internet. Ideas and jokes fly through online communities depending entirely on how well they are liked, not on the status of the person who said them. The website 4chan embodies this Internet equality perfectly. 4chan witnesses the creation of almost all of the most popular Internet jokes or ideas. The site is simply a series of message boards onto which people post pictures or messages. What makes 4chan special is its complete anonymity. While most websites require at least a valid email in order for a user to start posting, 4chan does not even require that basic identification. It was on the anonymous message boards of 4chan that a group of Internet pranksters first came together. They called themselves Anonymous after the nature of their posts and came together by working with each other to “troll,” or perform pranks on the Internet. Popular Internet pranks include prank calls, sending pizzas to random houses and flooding sites with more traffic than the site’s bandwidth could handle. Anonymous existed only as a small, unknown group on 4chan for years. However, their identity completely changed in 2008 when actions taken by The Church of Scientology prompted them to do something more.
The Church of Scientology got Anonymous’ attention by trying to remove from the Internet a video of Tom Cruise speaking about the religion. The church found the video embarrassing and attempted to censor it to improve their image. This censorship sparked a conversation among Anonymous members that led them to take actions against what they saw as a morally corrupt institution, both because of the Internet censorship and because of the allegations that the Church of Scientology cheats its adherents out of their money. The word spread about the protest through YouTube, and within the next few weeks protesters gathered outside various scientology headquarters around the world. Protests lasted throughout February and into early spring of 2008. Anonymous also was able to crash the sites of several scientology chapters and flooded the Church of Scientology with prank calls and black faxes. This movement became known as “Project Chanology,” because of its beginnings on 4chan. Project Chanology marked an important turning point for Anonymous. Stated by Cole Stryker, an author of a book on Anonymous, “Basically a group of Anons realized, ‘Well, we have this ability to harness the power of thousands of strangers through the Internet to pull all those resources in making someone’s life miserable. Why don’t we take that power and use it for good?” Further action on using Anonymous’ power for good—or at least what they term good—grew over the years and came to a head in 2011.
2011 was a major year for Internet activism, with movements such as Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street all either beginning or being publicized over the Internet. Anonymous was supportive and occasionally active in all of these movements. In January 2011, the group hacked into the Tunisian government’s website, crashed it, and released a video speaking out against the Tunisian government’s injustices. The group stood behind Occupy Wall Street, spreading the word and urging more people to participate. In addition to larger political movements, Anonymous made waves by hacking into company networks such as HBGary, PayPal and Stratfor; immoral websites such as child pornography sites and hate sites; and governmental groups such as NATO. In 2012 Anonymous hacked the CIA website and other law enforcement accounts. On the same day, they recorded an FBI conference call and posted it on YouTube. In protestation of the recent shutdown of Megaupload, Anonymous hacked the sites of CBS and Universal Music and posted links to free downloads for a variety of different musical artists, all of whom were represented by Universal Music. Anonymous’ actions are varied in goal, scope and legality. Its actions have no clear direction because the organization itself is decentralized and leaderless. Yet despite their unorganized nature, the actions of Anonymous are rippling throughout the world.
Anonymous is indicative of the scope and power of the Internet as it exists today. The Internet is perhaps the greatest means available of organizing a large amount of people. Yet the Internet cannot be considered an agent of organization, but rather an agent of chaos and anarchism. In fact, Anonymous has taken for its symbol a Guy Fawkes mask, as seen in the graphic novel V for Vendetta and its movie adaptation. The graphic novel centers around the ideas of anarchism, and the use of the Guy Fawkes mask sends the message that members of Anonymous do as well. However, that is all that can be known for sure about the political views of the members of movement. How far they support anarchism, what anarchism means to them, and what actions they are willing to take to further anarchism is impossible to pin down because political opinions are slightly different for every anonymous member. Like the original anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the movement is leaderless, decentralized and random in its actions. Unlike the traditional anarchists, though, Anonymous and other Internet activist groups may now have the power to change the world anyway.
For Further Exploration
Note: There are very few scholarly resources to be found on Anonymous, as the world is still struggling to make sense of the group. The following are articles or resources on Hacktivism in general:
Denning, Dorothy E. “Activism, Hacktivism and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for
Influencing Foreign Policy.” IWS—The Information Warfare Website. 2001. http://
Samuel, Alexandra. Hacktivism and the Future of Political Participation. August 2004.
The following are news articles on both hacktivism in general and Anonymous in particular:
Barrett, Devlin. “U.S. Outgunned in Hacker War.” The Wall Street Journal. March 28, 2012.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304177104577307773326180032.html. Accessed April 17, 2012.
Lunden, Ingrid. “The Megabreach is Back: Hacktivists to Blame for 58 Percent of Stolen Data
in 2011, Says Verizon Study.” Techcrunch. March 22, 2012. http://techcrunch.com/ 2012/03/22/the-megabreach-is-back-hacktivists-to-blame-for-58-percent-of-stolen-data-in-2011-says-verizon-study/ Accessed April 16 2012.
Mills, Elinor. “Old-time hacktivists: Anonymous, you’ve crossed the line.” CNET News. March
30, 2012. http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-57406793-245/old-time-hacktivists-anonymous-youve-crossed-the-line/. Accessed April 16 2012.
Wilcox, Joe. “Are hacktivists more dangerous, or just more determined?” betanews. March 22,
2012. http://betanews.com/2012/03/22/are-hacktivists-more-dangerous-or-just-more-determined/. Accessed April 17 2012.
Pen, Joann. “The Evolution of Anonymous.” Mashable. March 26, 2012. . Accessed April 19 2012.
Anon News—Everything Anonymous. http://anonnews.org/
Twitter @YourAnonNews https://twitter.com/#!/YourAnonNews
Tumblr: “Your Anon News: You Should have Expected Us.” http://youranonnews.tumblr.com/
The following are archival elements—news articles and YouTube videos—from some of the events mentioned above:
“Anonymous downs government, music industry sites in largest attack ever.” RT News. January
20, 2012. Ed. March 7, 2012. http://rt.com/usa/news/anonymous-doj-universal-sopa-235/.
Accessed April 19, 2012.
Barkham, Patrick. “Hackers Declare War on Scientologists amid claims of heavy-handed Cruise
control.” The Guardian. February 3, 2008.http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/
Kazmi, Ayesha. “How Anonymous emerged to Occupy Wall Street.” The Guardian. September
26, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/27/occupy- wall-street-anonymous Accessed April 19.
“Message to Scientology.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCbKv9yiLiQ&feature=player _embedded. January 21, 2008. Accessed April 19, 2012. YouTube Video.
“Anonymous—Operation Tunisia—A Press Release.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFLa BRk 9wY0. January 5 2011. Accessed April 19 2012. YouTube Video.
“Occupy Wall Street—Sept. 17.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded &v=zSpM2kieMu8. August 30 2011. Accessed April 19 2012. YouTube Video.
“FBI and Met conference call on Hackers—Hacked for the Lulz.” http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=M6DfI0GBbjE. February 3, 2012. Accessed April 19, 2012. YouTube Video.
 “What the Hell are 4chan, ED, Something Awful, and ‘b’?” Gawker. Jan 18, 2008. http://gawker.com/346385/ what-the-hell-are-4chan-ed-something-awful-and-b Accessed April 19, 2012.
 “What’s Anon?” Mashable. http://mashable.com/2012/03/26/evolution-of-anonymous/ Online Video. March 26, 2012. Accessed April 19, 2012.
 Barkham, Patrick. “Hackers Declare War on Scientologists amid claims of heavy-handed Cruise control.” The Guardian. Februaray 3, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/feb/04/news Accessed April 19, 2012.
 Schliebs, Mark. “Internet group’s war on Scientology.” News.com.au. January 25, 2008. http://www.news.com.au/ technology/internet-groups-war-on-scientology/story-e6frfro0-1111115399994. Accessed April 19, 2012.
 Stryker, Cole. Qtd. Joann Pan, “The Evolution of Anonymous.” Mashable. March 26, 2012. http://mashable.com/ 2012/03/26/evolution-of-anonymous/. Accessed April 19, 2012.
 Pan, “Evolution of Anonymous.”