“We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
No longer just an adjective in the English language, “Anonymous” is now also used to refer the countless members of Internet subculture who choose to protect their identities from the world. Just about everyone has felt the effect of Anonymous’ presence online and off. From the net’s ubiquitous lolcats that can has cheezburger or Rick Astley at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the mass of nameless, faceless computer users known collectively as Anonymous are responsible for these social phenomenon. More interestingly, Anonymous has also been responsible for raids, invasions, activism, protests, and public defamation, via both legal and illegal means, with both good and malevolent intentions.
The idea of remaining anonymous on the Internet has been a topic of debate for nearly two decades, but in recent years, imageboards like 4chan and Futaba 2chan alongside wikis and forums like Encyclopedia Dramatica have proven themselves breeding grounds for users with a dangerous sense of unity and ability to willingness to make a difference in the world around them. Often, Anonymous’ goal is to cause as much mischief as is possible without causing real harm. Cases include mass [vulgar] posting on sites such as the anti-profanity “No Cussing Club” and inciting fear on Oprah’s talk show. For the most part, these practical jokes are not much different than your 8th grade friends prank calling the teacher, just on a much larger scale.
But there is great power in numbers. Under the blanket of modern technology, it seems that members of Anonymous consider themselves masked anti-heros. There are countless examples of how Anonymous has pulled together to cause real harm. For one, Anonymous was credited with an attack on Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account last year. After discovering the password, a user posted it along with screenshots of personal photos and emails to 4chan. Since, they have been posted and re-posted to the point that they are publicly available online and can be found with a simple Google image search. The culprit, David Kernell a.k.a. Rubico, was easily discovered because of several mistakes he made when bragging to posters on 4chan.
Luckily, Anonymous has shown that power in numbers does not necessarily mean a digital Ku Klux Klan. In addition to terrorizing Sarah Palin, Anonymous has done some good in bringing awareness to the common man regarding topic the media might otherwise glance over. Project Chanology, led by members of Anonymous, is a group set out to bring about knowledge of the dangers of The Church of Scientology, a religion formed in the US in 1954. After an interview with Tom Cruise, an avid Scientologist, leaked onto YouTube in 2008, the Church attempted to remove it claiming it was unfairly edited to misprepresent the religion and was intended only for current members of the Church. Once 4chan discovered the video, it was immediately reposted and remains available to this day. Subsequently, Anonymous began to band together in public protest of Scientology and was called to arms via a series of videos. Perhaps most interesting about these videos is that they alert the public that Anonymous is not an elite group of hackers, but rather your everyday man and woman who choose to take action through the force of a faceless army.
Unfortunately, some members of Anonymous decided to take it upon them to take criminal action in the form of denial of service attacks on Scientology owned sites. After the case was investigated and some identities were uncovered in October of 2008, Dmitriy Guzner, 18, of Verona, New Jersey pled guilty to computer hacking for his role in the attacks which took place during January of the same year. According to the information filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles, Guzner participated because he “considered himself a member of an underground group called ‘Anonymous.’”
I personally feel that Anonymous was coming one way or another. Although the intentions of your average 4chan user might be less than ideal, change comes about when groups of people get passionate about something. If lolcats are what thousands and thousands of users are passionate about, I can’t complain. If protests and public awareness are what these people are all about, even better. Even if it is a waste to see such mass amounts of people passionate about pranking the rest of the world, it is good to know that there are ways for people out there to make a difference because others agree with their ideals. Although not necessarily attributable to 4chan and Anonymous, the recent Iran election protest was a largely Anon type of digital protest. When I heard of friends doing their part to wreck Ahmadinejad’s web infrastructure, I was interested to say the least. If something vile like a rigged election occurs in the United States, it’s basically guaranteed that Anon will be on top of it and that they (we?) have the power to do something about it. That kind of power and freedom is empowering.
Since joining this course, I have done a fair bit of lurking around Anonymous safe havens. Most of what I see is creepily dark humor mixed with a lot of pornography, profanity, and an occasional glint of useful, interesting, or heartwarming info. While doing a little bit of research for this post, I found a rather amazing forum thread regarding Anon. For some people, Anonymous is not just an adjective or even a mass noun, but a rather a way of life. With anonymity becoming easier and easier, it’s no wonder that people all around the world are taking part in this underground revolution. Expect us.