On Anonymous

Gabriella Coleman has published an interesting analysis of the hacker group Anonymous:

Abstract: Since 2010, digital direct action, including leaks, hacking and mass protest, has become a regular feature of political life on the Internet. The source, strengths and weakness of this activity are considered in this paper through an in-depth analysis of Anonymous, the protest ensemble that has been adept at magnifying issues, boosting existing ­ usually oppositional ­ movements and converting amorphous discontent into a tangible form. This paper, the third in the Internet Governance Paper Series, examines the intersecting elements that contribute to Anonymous’ contemporary geopolitical power: its ability to land media attention, its bold and recognizable aesthetics, its participatory openness, the misinformation that surrounds it and, in particular, its unpredictability.

Posted on October 3, 2013 at 6:43 AM21 Comments


Dalo October 3, 2013 8:21 AM

I’d say that’s a fairly accurate portrayal of anons. It does miss a few segments of its history such as the demonization of Anonymous even when they do objectively morally good acts (Take a look at what is happening with KYAnonymous a.k.a. Derek Lostutter). The guy who outed the Stubenville rapists is being hounded by the FBI who is trying to levy charges against him multitudes worse than those levied against the rapists. The name Anonymous has become such a boogyman that the Feds seem to want to destroy anyone who associates with them.

Oldanon October 3, 2013 8:37 AM

KYanon kind of falls into the attention seeking whiteknight new anonymous. Whiteknighting used to be forbidden as anonymous started as an inside joke. Hackers would crowdsource on various sites to build a small army for the purposes of pranks and defending net neutrality, and the propaganda of the call to arms memes were supposed to be over the top to troll the media. Then when the scientology IRL protest happened movement was hijacked from hilarious cacophony to dead serious ‘activists’. For example so called Anons on the cancer that is social media imitating earlier raids but not for the lulz, instead phony moral outrage. They forget that orig anon used to crash facebook pity party memorial sites and caused chaos if you were caught being a white knight you were promptly doxed and harassed

Dalo October 3, 2013 8:45 AM

The point I was trying to make is that the feds don’t seem to care about the actions a given individual takes anymore. If the person associated with Anonymous, the Feds will leap at an opportunity to destroy him/her.

Its Relative October 3, 2013 9:56 AM

KY is a pretty big famefag and a douchebag at that. He whiteknighted his fucking heart out….so he could drop a “rap” album. Fuck that guy.

Curious October 3, 2013 11:04 AM

‘Anonymous’ sounds more like a slogan than some kind of organizational name or a name for a group imo.

I’ve been wondering if the name Al-Qaeda and variants are more like motivational slogans than group names, not really meant to be representative of any given group as such. Presumably, anyone explicitly annoucing themselves as being a member of Al-Qaeda doesn’t require fielding any allegiance to such a group. I am no expert on the occurrances of the name ‘Al-Qaeda” though as encountered in the middle east and in the far east, but I wouldn’t trust the media or even governments in general, for factually attributing a label such as Al-Qaeda or even ‘anonymous’ to anyone really being organized as a group.

I am not really a member of any “western world” group, nor the “free world” group, nor a group of “white people”. Even a label for use of my particular nationality is dubious or with limited meaning, it’s not like I can do anything to effectually denounce it. It’s merely associative.

Scott Arciszewski October 3, 2013 11:12 AM

KY wasn’t really involved with Anonymous from what I can tell. He took up the Anonymous “name” (which anyone can). That’s about as far as his involvement with it went.

  1. Was he involved with ANY of other protests?
  2. Was he involved in other ops?
  3. Did he hang out on /b/ or IRC at all before this happened?
  4. Did he know anything about network security, anonymity, and the struggles against censorship and surveillance before they became hot-button issues because of Snowden?

From what I can tell, he only used the Anonymous name because it was an express ticket to fame. Thus, addressing KY as a member of Anonymous is sketchy and only serves to introduce hostility and controversy where there otherwise should be none.

Oldanon October 3, 2013 11:30 AM

Technically anybody can be Anon just wait for a major attack and contact the media pretending you did it, and drop your manifesto. You’re right about the nonsense FBI escalated charges. Rapists always get less time than some kid who breaks into a pay wall. Even DPR is looking at more time for ‘computer tresspassing’ than he is ordering hits and running an online cartel. This goes back to stupid 1990s laws where they thought you could whistle ICBM codes into the phone and ratcheted up the fear

blackplans October 3, 2013 12:09 PM

Time is a commodity I always seem to be too short on, but I would like to offer my two cents.

First off, I agree with “Oldanon”, to a point.

It has been asserted elsewhere, by others, more eruditely and succinctly than I probably will here that as an idea, a living and breathing meme, Anonymous by necessity changes over time. When enough people decided that Anonymous was an activist group, people interested in activism became involved, in doing so they made their suppositions about Anonymous a sort of reality.

Bruce himself, from his time in and around the hacker scene, will understand the weird contradictions inherent in it, in many ways Anonymous is just a larger than life example of those contradictions. We demand transparency from governments and corporations but jealously guard our own identities as a sort of last remaining true currency in this world. Something that belongs to us.

Hackers have always had the urge to boast, it is only natural in many ways, divorcing oneself from one’s ego is tough. If not for fame itself then most of us crave some form of acknowledgement, if even only from those we consider our peers. The only real thing that has changed over the years is the medium by which this “boasting” has evolved, from BBS systems in the 80s, to IRC, to website defacements themselves and now these days to Twitter and Facebook. In my mind I imagine the conflict as a sort of internal version of Rutger Hauer’s soliloquy in Bladerunner, “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe”, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody knows who felled it, does it still have significance?

KYAnonymous is an archetypal example of this duality, he achieved through Anonymous the kind of fame he would never and could never have gained through his music, but he must have wondered at times, who would ever actually know? Thus we have the unnecessary risk taking, not just because of ignorance of operational security, but because he wanted his voice heard, skype calls and phone ins to radio and TV shows, etc. This resulted in his eventual raid, the murky circumstances that surround it and the following campaigns for financial donations, This merely confirmed to me my long held view that when large sums of money become involved, things tend to go to shit.

There are a myriad of issues at play here and I am sure that is why this is just a short academic treatment, a paper in advance of the much more comprehensive book that Biella is still working on.

I guess for me the most important issue is that people realize that Anonymous cannot simply be summarized as a group of people that originated on 4chan and evolved from there. Anonymous represents currents in internet politics that are as old as the internet itself. The right to interact on our own terms on a medium that nobody should own or control. There are members of groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and Masters of Deception that still look on from the sidelines, at what many consider the antics of Anonymous with vocal or grudging respect or, at the very least, a mild sympathy. Anonymous is part of a tradition, not something that popped into existence in a void.

Oh and inb4 someone points out that I am posting as “blackplans” and not “Anonymous”, I wish anyone who cares to debate with me to have that opportunity, I am easy enough (on one level) to find.

May we all consider to debate and argue, because only through tearing apart and rebuilding can anything truly ever hope to reach it’s true potential.

blackplans October 3, 2013 12:14 PM

Scott Arciszewski: KYAnonymous was given posting access to the @YourAnonNews account after some vague involvement with an op that involved Westboro Baptist Church and something else that escapes me at this moment.

Attempting to take on the WBC is like the ultimate contradiction of “don’t feed the trolls”, completely pointless but fun if you enjoy banging your head against a wall I suppose.

Why he was given this access to YAN? I wish I knew.

nobodyspecial October 3, 2013 12:15 PM

@Curious – I think that is widely recognised as a major failing in the wat on terror/fight against Al-Queda. Our army is organised into ranks and divisions and plans so must the enemy.

This leads to the ridiculous sight of questioning Al-Queda “leaders” captured 10years ago about future AQ plots.
Rather like the Germans interrogating an American volunteer captured during the Spanish Civil about the plans for D-Day

tempest October 3, 2013 1:03 PM

blackplans said: “I guess for me the most important issue is that people realize that Anonymous cannot simply be summarized as a group of people that originated on 4chan and evolved from there.”

this! hacker and online culture goes back many decades. anonymous is only new in the aspect of the numbers of people who can have more real time access and communications. trolls, hackers and activists have always interacted together from very early on. it just wasn’t as rapid over a 300 baud modem into a single node bbs. i didn’t find anything particularly interesting or revelatory in biella’s paper. perhaps that’s because this culture isn’t foreign to me.

on another note, bruce, anonymous is not a group. ;-p

G-Man October 3, 2013 1:37 PM

on another note, bruce, anonymous is not a group. ;-p

What is it then? A set? A collection? A single individual? Something else?

Nick P October 3, 2013 1:38 PM

Anonymous is definitely just a modern form of black hat hacker culture. They use anonymity and technology for a combination of pranks, popularity and activism. My friends and I did similar things over ten years ago, yet the Internet was too young for a major effect.

The members of Anonymous are a recognizable lot. You have those that are in it for the lulz doing whatever goofy or fiendish crap they can. You have intellectual types. You have people with an activist sense. You have technologists. Just as diverse as hacking and Internet culture in general because that’s essentially what it is. Just call it a slightly more organized group of Internet users with a certain background. Or a group of groups whose members participation shifts to different projects. Trying to throw them into a specific category would be like trying to do that to reddit users: who has so little sense to try? 😉

Back in the day, hackers talked about all kinds of damage they could do. Computer security was so bad then that people like Mitnick and Coldfire proved they could do horrendous damage with the access levels they regularly obtained. The industry woke up and raised the bar a bit where five minutes doesn’t let us crash an entire Fortune 500 backend anymore. 🙁 The new low hanging fruit was social engineering and the new generation of black hats got VERY good at that. So, we saw Anonymous combining that with regular hacking and DDOS to attack their targets.

The big Anonymous vs everyone war was a test I think. It was a test of what such a group could actually pull off if they had many motivated individuals, albeit not top talent hackers or security engineers. (I speculate they’d have been many times more dangerous.) The group achieved plenty of publicity, damaged certain organizations, etc. Yet, they had zero effect on the control that major institutions from bankers to M.I.C. have on this country. They were barely a blip on the radar.

Any real democracy trying to take effect would be fighting both the government’s security apparatus and big corporate cartels that profit on status quo. Anonymous had zero effect on them [despite their many laughable video threats]. Either they didn’t care enough to try or they were powerless. Neither implies something good for America’s future in terms of what online “revolutionaries” can do for it.

tempest October 3, 2013 1:57 PM


it would depend on who you ask. some would say it’s an idea. personally, i think it’s more like a flag that people choose to fly. a “group” involves a heirarchy which doesn’t really exist. there are a lot of groups that fly the anonymous flag.

G-Man October 3, 2013 2:19 PM

some would say it’s an idea. personally, i think it’s more like a flag that people choose to fly. a “group” involves a heirarchy which doesn’t really exist. there are a lot of groups that fly the anonymous flag.

That does make sense in fact. Thanks.

gor October 3, 2013 2:34 PM

anonymous doesn’t seem to have a strategy. mass leaking is a dead end tactic (though the hb gary stuff is still turning up some interesting leads). anon were more effective when they had protests irl, aka project chanology. the outcome was a movement. once the movement coalesced, they abandoned any strategy — just cling to a handful of tactics and take pot shots at “the man.” wikileaks started out as a scheme to defraud the cia by pretending to be mostly interested in taking up the cause of chinese dissidents. it had a purpose, a strategy, and a tactic.

blackplans October 3, 2013 2:44 PM

gor: Anonymous doesn’t have a strategy because groups have strategies, Anonymous is not a group.

I personally disagree with your assessment of real life protests, they might have helped the movement coalesce initially but were terrible for operational security and involvement with Occupy is what has resulted in so many “cause of the day” operations that fizzle out due to lack of commitment, organization or technical acumen.

Anonymous was never meant to follow existing counter-culture activist tactics, it was born on the internet and the internet is still where it is strongest. Let the patchouli crowd handle the rest.

Just my opinion though. Each to their own.

Figureitout October 3, 2013 11:31 PM

gor && blackplans
–HB Gary was hilarious, gets me every time I think about it. Yeah, the real life protests these days are pretty stupid. You can do a lot more electronically on an activation sequence w/ safe deniability and noise. You’ll get identified real quick and coppers will show you just how fake “the freedom of speech” and “right to protest” is. B/c the business world forces you to stop b/c it’s bad for business.

Me, however, I welcome identification. That’s why I’m different. Identify me, I don’t care. Attack me, I don’t care (you won’t get my currently buried isolated system w/o some real pain, have fun looking b/c that is my holy grail). Lock me up on false charges, I don’t care. I aim to normalize a means for people to protest and get real change to an elite that needs to accept some change. Am I stupid? A little, at least in the short term; my life will be crap. But I will delay the inevitable police state physically and electronically; and in that regard, mission accomplished.

Figureitout October 3, 2013 11:35 PM

–Unless you don’t care about anonymity, real life meetings and protests are a good idea (if you don’t care about prosecution). But let’s be honest, most of us are more social on the keyboard than real life….

Jose October 4, 2013 6:31 PM

If they are anonymous, and supposedly anonymous. How it is posible that you are talking about then, them… LOL

JustWondering August 4, 2017 2:26 AM

So what ever happened to the Cult of the Dead Cow? They haven’t really done anything in over a decade. I see little posts here and there but it’s just old members keeping in touch or a few silly social justice posts.

It’s obvious most of them grew up and moved on, but it’s kind of weird they never really did anything to keep a group as strong as cDc going.

Kind of weird to go back to their old sites and see how active and legendary they once were… and now, when the internet is probably the most important subject of the day, there stuff sits there neglected or outright abandoned.

Seems like they kind of all dropped off around the same too; like there is a story behind it… and I bet it’s an interesting one too!

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