Anonymous: heroes or villains?

Who are Anonymous? The very question sounds like an oxymoron. Even attributing a label to the group is difficult. Anyone can become a ‘member’ if they wish to become one, though people who outwardly claim to be acting on behalf of the group are ostracised. Anonymous abhor censorship and social repression, using hacking techniques and social media to fight everything from corporate crime to terrorist groups. They represent a new age of activism, one in which Internet takedowns are the modern equivalent of sit-ins. But despite their high profile declarations of cyber war, for example against ISIS in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and November attacks in Paris last year, the general atmosphere surrounding Anonymous is one of mystery. Whilst some people see them as heroes of the digital age, whose efforts are bringing about social justice and real change in the face of adversity, others see them as Internet troublemakers and a hindrance to the work of the authorities. As a group with no apparent leadership, no apparent common philosophy and a history of diverging factions it’s little wonder that Anonymous continues to draw such conflicting reactions. Are they making a difference?

It is safe to say that the group, which originated on the /b/ “random” board of 4chan in 2003, has grown to be one of the leading figures of a modern online revolution. From its humble roots as a forum for trolls and Internet pranksters, Anonymous users began to use their tech powers for the good of mankind and turn trolling into political activism in 2008, when they launched a DDoS (distributed denial of service: an attempt to make multiple networks unavailable to intended users) against the Church of Scientology after the Church tried to remove a video of Tom Cruise, praising the virtues of the religious movement, from YouTube, which Anonymous defined as censorship. Their involvement and brash tactics encouraged a closer look into the alleged corruption within the Church. Their subsequent video ‘Message to Scientology’ signed off with the now-signature, “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

Since then, Anonymous has been divided amongst those members who have wanted to pursue the use of the online platform for restoring social virtue, and those who are just doing it for the lulz. But diverse opinions and freedom of speech are definitely not something that Anonymous want to fight against. Even when releasing the names and social media links of 350 KKK members, the group stated that, “We are not attacking you because of what you believe in, as we fight for freedom of speech”. They act, for the most part, like a moral compass, creating an atmosphere of unity and hope for citizens to make changes when authorities fail them. The evolution of the group and dissenting opinions within it therefore only make it more human. Anonymous may be a very loosely organised collective, but they are a collective nonetheless, of people with real opinions and emotions. This is where their strength lies. They play the role of a modern hero because people need them to. The masks worn by its members, modelled on the mask worn by the hero in V for Vendetta, a vigilante who fights against a totalitarian police state, perhaps offer the best signifier for who Anonymous are: the hidden masses, now behind computer screens, who come together with the common purpose of wanting to make a change.

But what happens when the plan goes wrong? For example, when 7 of the names they listed as KKK members turned out to be incorrect, or when they attacked the “No Cussing Club” site, a site run by a 14 year old boy who wanted to discourage his peers from using curse words and was subsequently subject to a barrage of hate mail and even death threats. A lack of centralisation or leadership perhaps makes it difficult when choosing whom to target; this is the inherent problem that faces Anonymous and continues to undermine the positive projects in the eyes of many people.

The reputation of Anonymous is at odds. Whilst many people praise them for their work, others find them a nuisance. Their image is improving, however, with current projects such as #OpISIS and #OpSafeWinter, which looks at the problems of homelessness in the UK. With a now definable brand and output of video messages and documentaries, even a most recent one in which Anonymous protesters speak without their masks, Anonymous are making the intangibility of their very being, more real. Whilst other platforms hide truth more and more from the public, Anonymous are powered by a desire for justice. What they provide most of all is a sense of hope, a sense that, if you want to make a change in the world, you can. We do not know who they are, but we know they are there, fighting against the enemies of the masses. They are the alternative superhero.

Photo : Twitter/AnonsOpsNews

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