"We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
In late January 2008, a video appeared on YouTube which was to change the face of the Internet forever. In this video, a voiceover performed by artificial speech synthesis denounced the Church of Scientology, warning that the cult was about to come under protracted attack by an unknown and massive collective. The video concluded with the chilling statement at the top of this article, a statement that has become household knowledge around the world, and the infamous signature of Anonymous.
In the months that followed, tens of thousands of people, most wearing the Guy Fawkes masks featured in the movie V for Vendetta, staged a series of protests outside Scientology buildings around the world, exposing the cult's ruthless control over its members and litigious attacks on any who opposed it. The cult's websites were sacked by DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, and its offices received thousands of harassing phone calls and faxes. Throughout 2008, the cult received more publicity than it had throughout its entire existence - and all of it bad.
The video by Anonymous denouncing the Church of Scientology
Yet Anonymous did not stop with the Church of Scientology. In March 2008, Anonymous attacked the website of the Epilepsy Foundation in the UK, plastering its forums with rapidly flashing, flickering images designed to induce seizures in photic-sensitive epilepsy sufferers. With this act, Anonymous revealed itself for the first time not as an organisation promoting freedom, but as a collective anarchy motivated primarily by Schadenfreude; what its members call "lulz" - the dark laughter derived from seeing the emotional responses of others to antagonism.
Anonymous is not, as mass media believe, a coherent entity or an organisation in the traditional sense. In fact, George Orwell in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four described a similar phenomenon:
The Brotherhood cannot be wiped out because it is not an organization in the ordinary sense. Nothing holds it together but an idea which is indestructible. You will never have anything to sustain you, except the idea. You will get no comradeship and no encouragement. When finally you are caught, you will get no help. ... We cannot act collectively. We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation. In the face of the Thought Police, there is no other way.
However, Orwell portrayed his Brotherhood as a fabrication of the Party, not as a real underground opposed to the Party. And most importantly, he did not foresee the Internet. Anonymous is not a fabrication of any government; it is very real. Its existence is made possible by the Internet and the unrestricted global communication it enables. Through its many underground websites the members of Anonymous exchange information, seek new targets, and plan raids. There are no leaders or controlling bodies, although some people have tried to claim or pretend leadership and have been vigorously attacked for their pains. And Anonymous has unique and effective ways of deterring nosy strangers from observing its activities.
On visiting Anonymous' underground sites, one inevitably descends into a veritable cesspit of pornography, gore, bestiality, perversion, racism, misogyny and even child abuse. It's an effective repellent to the curious and uninitiated; those who Google for Anonymous may well find their way to these sites, but after a short period of exposure to things more disgusting and vile than the average person can even imagine, they flee in horror, never to return. On most of these sites, known as "imageboards" or "chans", in particular the "random" section of them known as "/b/", the discussion threads disappear after anywhere from a few minutes to at most an hour, to be replaced by others. Nothing stays on them for very long, and the sites themselves are so structured as to make it very difficult to locate any particular thread. The sheer volume of traffic means that any one thread rapidly disappears into the bowels of the site - often within seconds of being posted - and there is no search mechanism provided to find them. Those who are familiar with how these sites work, however, can use programs and scripts to simplify their use, and the veterans of them, known as "oldfags", can navigate them with considerable facility.
One way to understand the nature of Anonymous, then, is to compare it to the human brain. In the brain, thoughts come and go with amazing speed, most of which are never given expression. No one neural cell controls the brain; it is a Gestalt structure, in which all of its component parts are equally important and equally redundant. A single group of cells may fire in sequence and cause the person to desire, and consume, a bowl of ice cream, even though no one cell was instrumental in making this decision. Like the brain, Anonymous functions by individuals posting various suggestions on the imageboards, and if enough others pick it up and run with it, it becomes a formal Anonymous operation. The vast majority of threads go nowhere, their creators deluged under a torrent of abuse, imprecations and derisive images. Only a few gain the accolade of "epic win", gaining enough of a following to lead to an actual event.
When such a thread does succeed, the result can become an unstoppable tsunami of activity. The criteria for a successful thread are simple: its originator must either demonstrate that the proposed target is likely to react with strong expressions of emotion and opposition, or that the target is involved in eroding civil liberties (such as temperance or other pro-restriction lobby groups.) Once the consensus is reached that the target is to be attacked, more threads are initiated to plan various methods of attack. IRC channels are used to co-ordinate attacks in real time, the target's (if an individual) personal information is rooted out and posted (called "dropping dox"), and the attacks begin.
Attacks by Anonymous may take the form of organised street protests, but are usually carried out over the Internet. The target may be the recipient of unsolicited pizza deliveries, postal packaging, and a torrent of free samples and promotional leaflets from any company that provides them. Social networking accounts such as Myspace and Facebook are hacked, with a deluge of obscene images being deposited on them. Prank phone calls can come in on a continuous, round-the-clock basis, rendering the target's phone unusable. Websites owned by the target may also be hacked or DDoSed, and email accounts may be compromised. Because of the huge numbers of people involved, such attacks quickly overwhelm the target and can completely ruin their life.
Is this a cause to fear Anonymous? Only if you are the sort of person who likes to infringe on the freedoms of others, or if you are making ridiculous and untenable propositions on the internet, or otherwise already making a fool of yourself. If you fear that someone such as an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, adversary at work or school, might try to induce Anonymous to attack you, rest assured. Should anyone attempt such an act, posting your details on an imageboard in an attempt to raise Anonymous against you, its members have a creed: "Not your personal army!" If your opponent persists, they will find themselves becoming the target of Anonymous. As long as you don't rise to bait, post egotistical and self-exalting videos of yourself on YouTube, or attack others, you are not in any danger. And if you are the sort of person who likes to force your ideals on others - I can only say, you deserve what you get.
Anonymous targets the Australian Government over Internet censorship
Despite its attacks on targeted individuals, Anonymous has also achieved some noble goals. By exposing the cult of Scientology, it has dramatically reduced the numbers of vulnerable people falling victim to its toils. By organising steet protests, Anonymous has effectively prevented the passage of draconian and overbearing legislation. Anonymous is the voice of the internet, a mass of people joing together in common causes, for the first time in human history without leaders and without control. Anonymous is amoral, merciless and indiscriminate. And Anonymous is currently targeting the despotic Australian government over the issue of Internet censorship. This, I fully support. Since I live in the totalitarian police state Australia is fast becoming, I am unable to post links here to the Anonymous websites; doing so could earn me fines of $10,000 per day per link. Thus I, like millions of others, will stand against the power-hungry despots who seek to regulate every aspect of our lives. And so it is that I, too, will join the mounting legions standing up for the very freedom our forefathers gave their lives defending, and add my voice to the growing crowd roaring as one:
We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
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