When the Guy Fawkes’ mask made an appearance in the iconic V for Vendetta more than a decade ago, who could have known it would be borrowed to become the face of a movement against the overt censorship of politics. The Anonymous.
Growing up in the nineties, film and TV shaped my perception of hackers being able to do anything. In my eyes, they were invincible. I pictured a skinny Ukrainian teenager typing on his keyboard of a multiple monitor display, green text scrolling down a pitch black background. Those tiny fingers could track down criminals or steal identities. They were masters of a mysterious craft. However, those were the early days of the World Wide Web, and it was all still a bit Wild West. At least comparing to now.
Now, as the Internet has gotten more global and more powerful, this has changed the scene immensely.
The hacktivist group Anonymous has so far claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack on the websites of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Justice Department, the Scientology Church, Universal Music, the Recording Industry Association of America. And we all know about it.
Hacking has never been so public. It is no longer a dark room, or a mysterious craft.
The Anonymous openly announce their targets and flaunt their victories. We’ve seen them make the news headlines thousands of times whether it was to do with protests against the Church of Scientology, a fight against the Mexican cartels, the break-in of Stratfor Global Intelligence servers or more recently their social media campaign against ISIS or pure disapproval of Donald Trump.
After all this international activist movement is empowered by social media sites. For that matter, it has laid out its basis online, in 4chan, to creating support systems worldwide over Twitter and Facebook.
It was a new type of activism – leaderless, unorganized, rooted in the Internet – with the ability to mobilize a large number of people quickly around their cause.
In its decade of existence, Anonymous has evolved from pranksters into one of the most morally fascinating and politically active groups operating today.
With the anatomy of the attacks, purely powered and organised exclusively online, it is easy to see that the movement is a marriage between countercultural utopianism and the limitless faith in technology.
Anonymous is more than revolutionary; it is the most radical advocate of a widespread combination of political wisdom with technological power. Anonymous is Silicon Valley’s unwitting shock troops, a live demo of the Internet’s power to bring change to the world.
And while their values are idealistic to an extremist extend, their approach is far from effective.
Anonymity can have its drawbacks.
A leaderless, unorganised, rooted in the Internet movement instantly translates to a chaotic, misunderstood, dependent on personal interpretations, possibly fraudulent concets.
In short, Anonymous doesn’t know who it is. And can’t know who it is. Because it’s made of countless different individuals, all of whom have their own opinions and beliefs about what Anonymous is and what it should be in the first place.
It wasn’t the same Anonymous person, or group for that matter, that declared war to ISIS, or the Operation Global Blackout, nor was it the same person that executed the attacks on the Visa, PayPal and MasterCard cutting off their services to Wikileaks.
Which is all that makes it so great. But, at the same time, is what contains its weaknesses.
Internet activism is at its most effective as an extension of real-world solidarity. The Anonymous have thought us that. And when it comes to cracking the mystery of today’s social movements, we need to first of all make a distinction between organisation and mobilisation. Whereas social media do a good job in case of the last aspect, organisation remains weak. At least when it comes to the Anonymous.