Lack of transparency and advances in communications technology make the worldwide hacktivist network ‘Anonymous’ a necessary function of the twenty-first century. Society has entered the information age, where communication has become inherently associated with the economy and culture (McChesney 2015). New technologies allow for networked communication, providing a platform where the organisational aspects of protests, riots and social movements can occur (Fuchs 2014). Referring to forms of collective action motivated by political, economic or cultural objectives, social movements rely on the unification of individual members (Fuchs 2014). Organised online social actions, resistance movements and acts of hacktivism have gained popularity during the last few years (Dick 2012).
Describing itself as ‘the 21st century enlightenment’ (Fuchs 2014), Anonymous are an international collective of cyber activists (Hammer & Khalia 2013). Anonymous and similar initiatives have altered the landscape of the internet (Treadwell 2013). Providing anyone who agrees with the objectives the opportunity to become Anonymous, their actions demonstrate the power of a collective (Terzis 2011). Various Anonymous operations have advocated freedom of information (Treadwell 2013), counteracted abuses of power (Beyer 2014), and overcome ideological influences (Sorell 2015). Despite their ambiguity of purpose, their selective operations appear to be motivated by cases of social abuse (Klein 2015). Anonymous are commonly referred to as ‘hacktivists’ a term combining computer hacking and activism (Goode 2015). While many question whether hacktivism has a place in the information age and progressive digital politics (Goode 2015), it can be argued due to lack of transparency and advances in communications technology, Anonymous are a necessary function of the twenty-first century.
Since its arrival the internet has been adopted as a platform of political speech and social action (Dick 2012). Despite attempts of repression, censorship and surveillance (Dick 2012), new technologies are constantly increasing our ability to communicate, questioning the current freedom of communication protections (Duffy 2009). Many have expressed concerns regarding the political motivations of governments who pursue internet censorships (Duffy 2009). Dick (2012) argues implementing censorship compromises freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, leaving established democracies vulnerable and open to regression. The concept of freedom of information entails communications of all forms should not be supressed and that accurate public information is widely accessible, free from notions of censorship or punishment (Beyer 2014). This concept is aimed to increase government and corporate transparency, ultimately supporting democratic discourse (Beyer 2014).
Alongside other freedom of information advocates Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, Anonymous’ operations challenge powerful institutions and provoke reform through collective action (Klein 2015). An instance of this would be Operation Avenge Assange in 2010 (Mansfield-Devine 2011). Aiming to draw attention to the actions of WikiLeaks’ adversaries, who attempted censorship, Anonymous identified and attacked those responsible (Hampson 2012). Attacks were launched against organisations MasterCard, Visa and PayPal, who prevented payments to WikiLeaks, US senator Joe Lieberman and politician Sarah Palin (Mansfield-Devine 2011). Anonymous issued the following statement regarding the operation, “While we don’t have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same: we want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we cannot say what we think and not express how we feel (Mansfield-Devine 2011).” Whenever Anonymous has appeared in the news or has trended online, individuals have inundated Anonymous community spaces (Beyer 2014), making their objective to raise awareness a success. Through actions and declarations, this operation proved Anonymous support freedom of information, freedom of expression and democratic discourse. Where governments and corporations were able to impose their will in the past (Bertola 2010), Operation Avenge Assange displays while institutions can abuse the power of the internet, online communities like Anonymous can counteract censure with collective action (Beyer 2014), making them a necessary function.
The internet has shifted power from governments and corporations to independent citizens (Bertola 2010). Historically powerful institutions were able to exert their will despite general opposition (Bertola 2010). However, globalisation of the internet has created a worldwide stakeholder group, giving power to individuals lacking it in the traditional sense (Bertola 2010). Using collaborative efforts, citizens of the world can provoke political action (Bertola 2010). And while individuals have strengthened from transitioning to networks, so too have authoritative powers (Krapp 2005). Krapp (2005) suggests ‘citizens of information society are governed less by concentrated coercion and more by ideological power.’ The internet’s networking and communication opportunities support democratic discourse and undermine any attempts of commercial or ideological influence (McChesney 2015). These platforms can leave governments and organisations vulnerable, rebalancing and shifting power (Sorell 2015).
A direct example of Anonymous using the internet to enlighten individuals, rebalance power and counteract ideological influence was during Operation Tunisia in 2011. Anonymous learnt of a Tunisian marketplace vendor setting himself on fire after his goods were seized by the dictatorship (Kelly 2012). After investigating the dictatorship, Anonymous deemed the Tunisian government guilty of suppressing internet access to its citizens (Kelly 2012). Their response was to attack government websites as well as providing Tunisian citizens with software to counteract censor blocks (Kelly 2012). This operation demonstrated governments and organisations can become vulnerable to the actions of a small group (Sorell 2015). Anonymous exposed the vulnerabilities of a dictatorship, rebalancing power by providing Tunisian citizens with information free of censorship and regulation (Sorell 2015). The Tunisian government’s actions of restricting access to information and freedom of expression display how the internet can be used as a tool of control, conflicting with democratic discourse. The collective nature of Anonymous to confront issues such as this, make them a necessary function that counteracts abuses of power, balancing the ideological influences of governments and corporations (Krapp 2005). Operation Tunisia was a successful expression of hacktivism as well as political reform.
In today’s information age, hactivism has become a popular form of protest against perceived wrongdoings (Hampson 2012). Hactivism is when hacking becomes political, and rather than undertaking technical feats, objectives can be shifting public discourse, raising awareness or creating public pressure (Kelly 2012). Hacktivism can involve an individual person or many (Krapp 2005), and adequately resembles traditional forms of protest (Hampson 2012). Centuries old techniques including demonstrations, sit-ins, labour strikes and pamphlets have been refashioned into digital mediums (Krapp 2005). Tactics can include website defacement, exploiting security vulnerabilities, breaching networks and DDoS and botnet attacks (Goode 2015). The internet provides platforms where an audience’s attitude progresses from passive to active (Fuchs 2014). This system allows opportunities for minorities to take action, requiring no minimum approval from the collective to commence an operation (Kelly 2012). Hacktivists have committed themselves to protecting human rights and encouraging democratic discourse (Milone 2003). Their actions initiate reform, and without reform, the possibilities of an egalitarian, self-governing and humane society are unlikely (McChesney 2015). Given that anybody agreeing with the objectives can become a part of Anonymous (Terzis 2011), their movements have redefined the boundaries between collective and individual action (Fuchs 2014).
An example of Anonymous’ ability to initiate collective action and inspire an active public was during their 2008 conflict with the Church of Scientology. Operation Chanology begun when the Church attempted to supress digital publication of film star Tom Cruise frantically raving about the religion (Kelly 2012). More than six-thousand participants in ninety-nine cities over the world donned Guy Fawkes masks and protested in the streets (Kelly 2012). Scientology websites were raided and Anonymous succeeded in preventing the clip’s disappearance from the internet (Kelly 2012). This movement displays Anonymous’ ability to inspire others involvement and become a force of public action (Klein 2015). Anonymous have successfully taken hacking, an act of isolation and turned it into a political and moral statement (Kelly 2012). Their actions successfully provoked debates over control of digital information, counteracting another instance where an institution abused the power of the internet and attempted ideological influence (Goode 2015). Operation Chanology demonstrated Anonymous’ ability to channel the collective power of like-minded individuals (Beyer 2014) reaffirming Anonymous are a necessary function to counteract abuses of power.
In conclusion, this essay has outlined the importance of freedom of information, the internet empowering individuals and the purpose of hacktivists using and inspiring collaborative efforts. As evidenced, Anonymous both contribute and maintain these principles, making them a necessary function of the twenty-first century. Anonymous provide counterbalance to many social, political and economic issues. Operation Avenge Assange proved their determination to protect the concept of freedom of information, ultimately supporting democratic discourse by ensuring accessible public information and increasing government and corporate transparency (Beyer 2014). Additionally, this operation displayed that collective efforts can counteract censure (Beyer 2014). Individual citizens have strengthened from creating networks (Krapp 2005), rebalancing and counteracting ideological influence (Sorell 2015). Operation Tunisia exposed the vulnerabilities of a dictatorship and gave citizens information free of censure and regulation. Operation Chanology demonstrated Anonymous’ ability to inspire the active involvement of others and become a force of public action (Klein 2015). Successfully provoking debate over information control, Anonymous proved the collective power of like-minded individuals can counteract abuses of social power (Beyer 2014) and overcome ideological influences (Sorell 2015). These operations were acts of hactivism, which has gained traction during the information age, allowing minorities to take action (Kelly 2012) and initiate reform to promote an egalitarian society (McChesney 2015). Operations Avenge Assange, Tunisia and Chanology demonstrate in cases of social abuse individuals and groups of people can form a collective to respond, as anyone agreeing with their objectives can become Anonymous (Terzis 2011). As technology is now fundamental to society and continues to advance, Anonymous is a necessary function that balances lack of transparency, ideological influence and abuses of power by governments and corporations.
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