By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of “Anonymous,” the online havoc-wreaking collective that has been in the news in recent months. But how much do you really know about the group, now reportedly 50,000 strong? In an era of 24-hour news, compounded by a constant stream of often-conflicting information from the Internet, and our co-workers, friends, and family members, it has become more difficult than ever to make sense of complex issues.
And the plight of “Anonymous” is complex. It has evolved dramatically over the past eight years, since the group’s emergence in 2003. What started as a small cadre of like-minded chatroom and forum-surfers has exploded into a surprisingly well-organized phalanx of “hacktivists,” capable of crippling some of the most secure sites on the Internet. As recently at 2008, the group was known for juvenile and vulgar pranks—like posting pornography on YouTube, disguised as videos that children might be drawn to, or posting flashing animated images in Epilepsy forums.
In the last couple years, though, they seem to have matured, and have become a commanding force. They have evolved, and committed themselves to “organized, peaceful and legal resistance,” according to the group’s website. They have united “under one common desire for true freedom and a world rid of oppression.” Essentially, the collective has found a singular voice—speaking out against what they perceive to be the great slumber of consumerism, the corporate takeover of Democracy, and oppression, in all of its forms, as it exists around the globe.
It began in 2009, when “Anonymous” partnered with “The Pirate Bay,” a file-sharing site, to protest the Iranian presidential election. Together, they launched a site, dubbed Anonymous Iran, designed to open the lines of communication between Iran and the rest of the world, despite attempts by the Iranian government to censor news about the ongoing riots. The site attracted 22,000 users worldwide, and helped facilitate the flow of information out of Iran during the unrest.
Late last year, amid the WikiLeaks scandal, “Anonymous” really stepped out of the shadows and showed its might. In support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, “Anonymous” attacked Amazon, PayPal, and the Swiss bank PostFinance—and took down both MasterCard and Visa’s websites, for perceived anti-WikiLeaks behavior. (Many of these had created policies that prevented members from donating to WikiLeaks.)
As the WikiLeaks drama unfolded, the world began to see what “Anonymous” was capable of. They attacked the websites of the Zimbabwe government for attempting to censor WikiLeaks documents. As the Arab Spring began, earlier this year, the highly-coordinated attacks on government sites would become one of the group’s most impressive trademarks. Attacks on the Tunisian government’s websites helped fuel the revolution, leading to the overthrow of the government. In the Egyptian revolution, “Anonymous” took down the government’s websites—which remained offline until President Hosni Mubarak ceded power. “Anonymous” has also taken actions to support the unrest in Syria and Libya.
The group involved itself in the Wisconsin protests earlier this year, organizing a boycott of Koch Industries—one of Governor Scott Walker’s largest corporate supporters. In March, they began releasing emails obtained from Bank of America, revealing what “Anonymous” described as “corruption and fraud,” and exposing the bank’s alleged improper foreclosure practices.
So what’s next for “Anonymous?” No one knows for sure. But there is some speculation that the group plans to take down Facebook on November 5. Regardless of what happens, I suspect we’ve only seen the beginning of “Anonymous.” As the collective continues to grow and becomes better-coordinated, distancing itself away from illegal practices and shifting its focus to “peaceful resistance,” we could begin to see the world’s first united populist movement against oppression.
To find out more about “Anonymous,” and to see some ominous videos about their mission, you can visit their website, www.whatis-theplan.org.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 08/18/11.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.