(from Guest writer Imogen (Polly Jackson)
In the broadest sense, Anonymous consists of a collection of loosely affiliated Internet groups who believe in the freedom of information and the Internet as an open community for the whole world.
After memetic beginnings on image board website 4chan, they have become more prominent in recent years after a number of high profile hacktivism attacks on targets who offend their central beliefs by promoting censorship and denial of information. In their activities, although each member functions individually sitting at a computer desk or lounging across a chaise sectional with a laptop, they act as a hive mind with a core identity performing coordinated actions in a parody of the techno-anarchists they are often portrayed as. Or, as a spokesperson for Anonymous once stated, “For the lulz.”
Despite growing from a website notorious for its love anime tentacle porn, one of the group’s primary consensuses is a vitriolic hatred of anyone with a genuine real-world interest in pedophilia. Should such an individual be discovered, a no-holds-barred cyberspace beatdown will commence.
Chris Forcand was an Internet predator who was chatting on MSN to what he believed were young teenage girls, the interaction consisting of none-too-subtle innuendo and increasingly disturbing requests, such as asking a girl to mail him her underwear so he could “taste her.” However, the girls in question turned out to be members of Anonymous engaging in the popular Internet activity of “pedo-trolling.”
The response was swift and merciless. Copies and screenshots of the chat transcripts were posted on a Christian community blog Forcand was an active member of, as well as sent to the local authorities along with his details of how he could be located. The police soon tracked him down and, using techniques similar to those of the Anonymous, he was arrested and sent to jail.
In January 2008 various members of Anonymous began a series of protests against the practices of the Church of Scientology.
A video of an interview with Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high profile adherent, featuring the actor extolling the virtues of the controversial religion was posted on YouTube and subsequently removed following the threat of litigation from the church. However, the members of Anonymous took exception to this, claiming that the removal of the video was tantamount to allowing the church to censor information about itself, as well as going against their belief that all information is free.
Project Chanology was formed with the intent of educating Scientology’s followers of its malevolence, releasing a video that was simply titled as “Message to Scientology,” but came off more as a declaration of war. It declared that because of its “malign influence over those who have come to trust you as leaders,” Scientology must be destroyed “for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind and for our own enjoyment,” before signing off with the portentous declaration of “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
Although Anonymous’ standard methodology of launching denial of service attacks was undertaken, Project Chanology also seeks to enlighten people of the murky water surrounding Scientology, specifically criticizing the media for never mentioning objections to the church and ignoring allegations that some members have died under the church’s care.
Since the formation of the Project, regular mass gatherings have been organized to voice protest against the church, with participants hiding their faces behind masks in the likeness the title character of V for Vendetta, in turn inspired by the 17th century British anarchist Guy Fawkes.
SOPA and PIPA
In January 2012, right after file uploading site Megaupload was shut down by the FBI, Anonymous launched what it described as the largest attack it had ever organized. As well as Megaupload’s shutdown, the growing resentment for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) led to the group targeting Universal Music Group, Broadcast Music, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); these four representing the largest supporters of the proposed bills.
Using the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, an open source network attack application named after a weapon from Command & Conquer, a large-scale distributed denial of service attack was launched. Over five and a half thousand people participated, with or without knowledge they were doing so, and the targeted websites were completely disabled forcing a complete restart that left them offline for days and slow to load once they were back up and running.
Although dozens of suspected hackers and Anonymous members have been arrested over the last year alone, it’s unlikely that the loss will have any noticeable effect on the group’s activities. On the contrary, it will probably cause them to redouble their efforts. The organization likely numbers in the thousands and they only intend to expand and endure, as “For each of us that falls, ten more will take his place.”