Stop calling Anonymous activists!

Anonymous are not activists. Their actions are not political. And yet, as they continue to deface websites and leak documents, the media keeps referring to them as such. As members of the group are being arrested in the US, UK and Ireland, it’s time to revisit the myth.

‘Political participation may be defined as individual or collective action at the national or local level that supports or opposes state structures, authorities, and/or decisions regarding allocation of public goods’ (Barness et. al., 1988)

Some of Anonymous’ actions don’t fit that definition, and are instead very much closer to opportunism.

Yesterday, Anonymous defaced Panda Security for allegedly helping law enforcement agencies to arrest them. According to the BBC, this is activism. But it failed to mention what they considered as political in this action. If it opposes authority, this is clearly in a self-centric manner, not oriented towards the greater good of the community.

A week before that, WikiLeaks published e-mails obtained from the security group Stratfor. The ‘activist’ group Anonymous was credited for obtaining the information. What was the political argument behind it? Was it that governments shouldn’t subcontract intelligence analysis? Or was it that governments shouldn’t engage in intelligence analysis at all? No members of Anonymous backed the action with any political comment. Instead they said in a video: ‘’the security firm failed to encrypt its client information making vulnerable to theft’. So, I can only guess in the end, that they hoped for the public to accredit them with whatever argument political commentators will likely come up with.

Even Anonymous’ argument is paradoxical in their approach. They advocate complete transparency, and that evil governments shouldn’t keep any information from the public eyes (hence Stratfor’s hack). They advocate that information is free (hence Sony’s hack in 2010 and 2012). They advocate basically that privacy and confidentiality shouldn’t exist anymore and that we should all share our data with everyone as much as Anonymous does.

Yet, when other groups, such as The Sun, used the same technics as they do to impinge on confidentiality, they are also unhappy with it. They then seized another occasion to seek for fame and be called ‘hacktivist’ by hacking into The Sun website. Their actions are inconsistent and not clear because, once more, they didn’t explain them and lazily let the public find the ‘political’ argument that will explain their paradoxical and childish opportunistic behaviour.

The anonymity of the groups not only hampers on their political accountability but also blurs any of their messages, as one cannot judge their motives. In other words, they lack transparency as much as their targets allegedly do.

So, in the end, one should be careful about not giving too much credit for such actions. Anonymous sometimes seeks to achieve more personal fame and maybe the media shouldn’t give in to that. Recently, released an interview of a hacker that allegedly defaced ’80 Brazilian Government sites’. Hacktivism, again? The hacker was 13 (this should already cast a doubt about his political judgement). When asked about his motives for hacking, he answered: ‘I hack to take part in the latest operations and to get better at hacking’. How can we know that Anonymous has not got exactly the same strong sense of political action to help the larger community?


14 thoughts on “Stop calling Anonymous activists!

  1. RB says:

    I’m sorry for that. “How can we know that Anonymous has not got exactly the same strong sense of political action to help the larger community?”

    Maybe they do?

  2. Roy R says:

    Couldn’t disagree more tbh. Anonymous certainly isn’t a homogenous political movement with a program of policies and a list of demands, but to say what they do isn’t political is absurd. Anonymous were one of the driving forces behind the original #OWS call, helping to built momentum for one of the biggest political awakening for a generation (in America anyway). They attached the sites of those who were trying to financially strangle WikiLeaks, taking a stand against the censorship-by-proxy of the US state. They attacked websites of various MENA dictators in solidarity with popular uprisings, and in Egypt helped to circumvent an information blockade. The Statfor hack exposed a revolving door between the national security state, the right, and private security – not to mention journalists. These are all inherently political actions.

    As for the absurd claim that “they just want information to be free…no one should have privacy” – this is a/a total straw man, and b/a political position in terms of the Barness et al. quote you give. You conflate the free access and circulation of information – conceived of as data which may be of use to those who want to do, build, learn, create something (which is how the OS movement work), or understand how politics and power function in society – with personal data (that is, things which are no ones business but your own).

    Anonymous cannot be analysed in terms of what individual members say, individual actions, etc. It is amorphous, dynamic, complex and confusing – but it’s ignorance to say it isn’t political.

    • Clement Guitton says:

      As you say, Anonymous is not ‘homogeneous’ and even if it advocates transparency, Anonymous thinks that it doesn’t apply to them. This implies that some of its actions, as ‘revenging’ Julian Assange, are going to fit, to some extent, into a certain definition of ‘political’, but not others. But the group is held accountable for what it says and what it does as a group, especially as people refer to Anonymous as… a political group.

      As already mentioned, Anonymous cannot be held accountable for much of what it does, which is a key component in Rawls’ definition of civil disobedience. By saying that Anonymous cannot be ‘analysed in terms of what individual members say’ or ‘individual actions’, this just proves my point.

      I’m not sure to understand what you mean in your second paragraph. Anonymous mentioned many times their advocacy for a ‘free flow of information’. The idea is political, we agree on that, but its limits are not defined. And their actions doesn’t help define it either, as they are inconsistent towards supporting this idea (to which extent have their actions actually pushed for more regulations of the Internet?).

    • Roy R says:

      As you say, Anonymous is not ‘homogeneous’ and even if it advocates transparency, Anonymous thinks that it doesn’t apply to them.

      I think most of us would advocate transparency – but that doesn’t mean everything should be made public. I advocate transparency for the spending of public money, the wielding of political power, the use of violence, etc. It is perfectly tenable to do this and not think everyones personal details must be made public for their opinions to be regarded as having political weight.

      This implies that some of its actions, as ‘revenging’ Julian Assange, are going to fit, to some extent, into a certain definition of ‘political’, but not others.

      Any satisfactory analysis of contemporary politics will need to take account of phenomena like Anonymous. Emergence, convergence, etc. are key drivers of political events and it is simply not goo enough to say “thats not politics”. To criticise them, as you do, for lack of consistency and coherence is to miss the point entirely!

      On accountability:
      Anonymous, as a group, converge on different issues at different places – the people involved have some level of accountability for their actions to the rest of the group (i.e. good justification must be given in advance of a DDOS attack or they simply wont muster the numbers to be effective). This isn’t accountability on the State’s terms, maybe even not in Rawls’ (I don’t know about his definition of civil disobedience I’m afraid) – but this doesn’t really seem here nor there, we don’t let the State define what ‘politics’ means. When new phenomenon occur we need to have a discussion about whether it constitutes political action or not, whether it fits into old paradigms is irrelevant.

      As for the last part about the limits of freedom of information, their inconsistency etc. Fine, I’m not arguing that Anonymous are an example of good politics, just that they are undoubtedly political.

  3. real name says:

    Approaching 1 year anniversary of Japan nuclear diasaster. Even the govt you elected is not your friend. They must be watched. They are constantly bullied by big corporations richer and more powerful than any one official, and more than the country itself. The moral of the story is big corporations cannot be trusted, govt cannot be trusted. And they are not watched enough. So for the moment you only have Wikileaks, and that’s why they are so close to Anonymous. It’s worse in US. GM corps are not allowed to be grown in most other countries, and they must be labelled. Export US beef to other countries trigger trade wars. McDonald in some countries have to disclose that what the beef of origin are. FDA and Monsanto share executives in turn. Even if you are the 1%, the organic industry is going to surrender soon. They can’t withstand the GM pollution of their crops. Is this the status you want to conserve for your kids and their kids?

  4. Meh says:

    Obviously you need to learn a bit more about hactivist history. The hand waving about the origins doesn’t cut it dude(s). You will find you’re gonna need to bow to the cow, KoW.

  5. Why Nobody make an QESTION TO THEM SELF…If Anonymous fight agaist corporation GREED..€€€$$$ why the police jail them ? ..Its not because the police protect the corporations and not the people?
    You jurnalist must to be political olso please don;t try to be nice and agains good people ..just try to see the good thing on it ..Someone must to do something in this world ..don;t ya’\>?

  6. Clement:

    I think you make a strong case that opportunism (or “just did it for the lulz”) is a major component in Anonymous’ activities. It’s interesting, for instance, that in making whatever point it was that they had in mind while hacking Stratfor, that they also took the opportunity to use the stolen credit card numbers (which have no political value at all) to run up $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges.

    All that said, however, I do think that a broad case can be made that politics ALSO plays a major role in Anonymous’ targeting decisions. To wit, I’m not aware of them targeting anything that could be viewed as a liberal or left-wing enterprise: e.g. PETA, or NARAL, or the ACLU, or Bradley Manning’s defense committee, or Occupy, or Noam Chomsky, or Syrian freedom fighters, etc.

    I stand ready to be corrected on that point, but it seems to me that their choice of targets as a whole indicates at least a general political philosophy.

    • Roy R says:

      I broadly agree with this. But the point goes far beyond these traditional political targets of left/right – the Lulz is political! We just don’t know how to talk about it in political terms yet.

  7. Do you have any suggestions of a good book that my birnyoefd and I could read together? We were talking about our quiet times the other day, and thought it might be a good way for us to get to know another side of eachother. I’m not sure if we’re ready to take on Love and Respect yet, any other thoughts?

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