Lurking just beneath the surface of online consciousness lies the hacker collective, Anonymous; viewed by some as civic servants, but by opponents they are cyber-terrorists. Underneath the wide, mustached grin of Guy Fawkes masks is an organism in a constant state of flux, as different faces shape the collective while tackling some of the world’s biggest human rights and equality issues.
Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist, has followed the group’s movements for the last six years. She has observed their transformation from online vandals to what some would like to consider a political party or movement.
What began as a group of techies playing practical jokes on one another spiraled into a collaboration of “hacktivists” targeting governments, companies and individuals for what the group views as transgressions against humanity. The organization has been known to take down websites and expose information that would normally be kept secret from the public.
Anonymous barely has an organizational structure and very little hierarchy. According to Coleman’s book, The Many Faces of Anonymous, one of the group’s main mottoes is “Anonymous is not unanimous.” The group places the benefits of the collective over a single individual. The hacktivists regularly embarrass people seeking singular credit and root for the underdog. The ability to wield such power with little structure is a miracle in political science, according to Coleman.
Anonymous does not select their targets at random. Members vote on targets, sometimes debating heatedly about “moral direction.” Many different subjects are laid out on the table, such as the Tunisian government and gluten-free food preparation. Members span the globe from a New York housing project to the arid sands of Iraq, connected only by Internet access and a common vision.
Whether viewed as civic servants or cyber terrorists, Anonymous has built almost a cult-like following of supporters and enthusiasts fashioned after the movie, V for Vendetta. Individuals wanting to join the group are advised that they are, in fact, not a group, but an idea. There is no ritual or rite of passage to become Anonymous. A belief in the common good and basic fundamentals of human kindness is basically all that is needed to consider oneself Anonymous. They do stress online privacy and refer users to websites that offer services to bolster that privacy. They remind potential members to consistently mask their identity, whether online or out in public.
Recently, the city of Fort Lauderdale came under fire for a recently enacted ordinance banning the feeding of the homeless. Protests rose up in the city and the face behind the movement, Arnold Abbott, became a household name. He was recently presented an award in Washington, DC, for his service to the homeless community. On Dec. 1, in retaliation against the city’s ordinance and obstinate stance, Anonymous posted a video to YouTube demanding the new law be repealed or the city would face the wrath of the group. The city did not comply and within a few hours, the city’s website was offline, more than likely through a delay-of-service tactic commonplace with most hackers.
Other recent operations include #OpRIPNK and #OperationJessica. #OperationJessica began when Jessica Chambers was found walking along the street, away from her flaming vehicle. Chambers suffered burns to over 98 percent of her body. She later died from her injuries. Arrests have not been made and according to Anonymous, local authorities are ill-equipped to handle the high-profile case. The group has stated that authorities are unable to fulfill the duties of their position and have taken matters into their own hands, infiltrating social media accounts in order to bring about justice for Chambers.
The group has posted Instagram pictures and tweets in regards to what they identify as local gang “Black Squad,” and have commenced an online campaign under the Twitter account @0Hour1. On Dec. 12, the group outed the alleged gang from information gleaned off of social media. The group has also claimed that Chambers once dated a member of the group, posting that picture as well.
North Korea has also fallen into the group’s crosshairs, as news reports claim that the communist country is behind the recent Sony hack attacks. Although North Korea has vehemently denied any involvement in the cyber-attack, Anonymous appears convinced that the hacker group, Guardians of Peace, initiated the attack at the behest of the Korean government. Under the Twitter account @TheAnonMessage, the group revealed that they would be leaking the movie, The Interview after Sony stated they were canceling the film’s debut.
Big corporations and governments are not the only ones to come screen-to-screen with Anonymous. The Ku Klux Klan’s Twitter account was comprised and the hacktivist group took control, changing the KKK’s avatar to one of Anonymous. On Saturday, the group called out Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, demanding that she apologize to another “femcee” (female emcee), Azealia Banks. Iggy Azalea was given 48 hours to issue an apology to the fellow femcee for “misappropriating black culture,” finding humor in the death of Eric Garner and making disparaging remarks about peaceful protesters. If after 48 hours an apology was not issued, the group threatened to reveal still shots of her rumored sex tape online.
While viewed by many as cyber terrorists or vandals, Anonymous has become a household name as the new digital-aged civic servants denouncing human rights abuses worldwide. Their belief is not centered on self-promotion or fame, but rather on cloaking one’s identity to benefit humankind. In a league similar to WikiLeaks, Anonymous exposes sensitive information about their targets in hopes of bringing about a desired change in policy and thinking. As long as injustices plague the world, the ambiguous group will be present, reminding everyone that “they are legion.”
Opinion by Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Tobi Gaulke – Flickr License