The Good, The Bad and The Anonymous

This is the uncut version of a feature I wrote on Anonymous for the relaunch issue of The Bournemouth Rock newspaper – a newspaper distributed across Bournemouth, UK.

You switch on the telly and you hear about how some mysterious group has hacked into Sony’s website and acquired thousands of private user data or perhaps you hear about how this same group has passed the details of animal abusers to the police after tracking them down using nothing but YouTube videos.

This is Anonymous and they have the inconsistent actions of a teenage girl.

To the average citizen, Anonymous is by no means a hot topic. In fact bring them up in general conversation and the most common response you will get is ‘who?’ However to those of us who have spent a worrying amount of time on the internet, Anonymous is notorious. They are the default name of posters on the website and imageboard 4chan. Visit a board on 4chan and you might get quality intense debates. Visit a different board and you might get the most immoral and disgusting content you may ever set your eyes upon.

The whole idea behind the name Anonymous is that they are essentially a collective. No matter how controversial the content is the users can’t be singled out and identified. They can be anyone from your neighbour to your local politician for example. Brian Zaiger is the head administrator of internet humour and satirical wiki – Encyclopedia Dramatica which in itself has thousands of Anonymous users and readers. Zaiger describes Anonymous as “a moniker anyone can hide behind for any variety of reasons”.
And so, they do hide. Anonymous are able to –essentially- do whatever they want because there are so many of them. According to AOL owned web profiler, 4chan has over 60,000 people visiting it any given moment with 12 million visitors each month. These people are all technically Anonymous, they are the unknown user who can browse, post or even troll without leaving a trace. But the fact that they have this “liberating” anonymity, as Zaiger calls it, has at times led to questionable activities.
In late January 2012, Anonymous performed distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) on the FBI website in response to the shutdown of file sharing site MegaUpload on 19 January. The shutdown came a day after the Wikipedia Black Out on 18 January in which thousands of sites closed themselves in protest of the proposed American bill – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Anonymous justifies attacking websites like the FBI on the basis of democracy and free speech
At the same time, Anonymous are weirdly affectionate towards cats. When a video of a British woman throwing a cat into a bin emerged on the internet, Anonymous tracked her down. A similar incident occurred in America where a teenage boy was shown abusing a cat called Dusty in a video. Anonymous also tracked the boy down, giving his details to the relevant authorities and the cat was eventually rehomed. How can Anonymous save cats and conversely, then attack websites when they feel that they’re losing the ability to pirate copyrighted material – which let’s face it is illegal…
On 3 February 2012 Anon released a recorded confidential phone call between the FBI and Scotland Yard in which the two discussed the tracking and arrests of Anonymous members. Why? Well simply just because they can. There’s no logic to Anonymous, they do things like replacing Justin Bieber video scripts with pornography on Youtube “for teh lulz”.Zaiger explains that “[we] have to understand that the Anonymous who are rescuing cats and the Anonymous who are DDoSing the Pentagon are two different Anonymous…There is another Anonymous that is heavily into collecting Child Pornography while another helps the FBI track down paedophiles.”“The internet (Anonymous) doesn’t like an asshole, and if they think that ruining your life will take you down a notch or two, then that is exactly what is going to happen.”

The vast majority of Anonymous are indeed, harmless individuals. Yet, the question remains for the Anons who do hack into government websites or threaten the Church of Scientology – who exactly gave them the authority to take matters into their own hands? Anonymous can be a force for the good but it doesn’t mean they should be allowed to be internet vigilantes whenever they want.

“[Anonymous’s] intentions were never to be the good guy or be the bad guy to begin with so in reality it doesn’t matter. They were doing it to laugh at someone else’s expense, because they felt that they need to be brought down a peg.”

Whilst challenging authority adds to Anonymous’ fight for the irrepressible internet, it also seems that they are not defying the highest tiers of the global hierarchy for democracy. They are not saving cats and taking down their abusers because they strongly dislike the concept animal abuse.

Anonymous do it for the simple fact that they can.


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