Joseph Menn’s September 24, 2011 Financial Times article, “They’re watching. And they can bring you down,” covers a dynamic that has received scant attention in the mainstream news: tensions within political entity referred to as Anonymous (Anon, for short). Regrettably, Menn does not bother with any discussion of Anon’s internal dynamics and his analysis on the hackers involved in Anonymous lacks any sustained engagement with the collective’s history. Menn’s treatment of Anonymous thus makes it impossible to appreciate the tensions that define Anonymous, where dissent is even more prevalent – if less sinister – than it appears in his FT article.
In what follows, we discuss some of our primary concerns with Menn’s FT piece, since we believe more critical engagement with the issues he raises is likely to yield important lessons for scholarly and journalistic approaches to digital media, protest politics, and cyber-security. Instead of merely depicting hackers as virtual pamphleteers for free speech or as digital outlaws, we need to start asking more specific questions about why and when hackers embrace particular attitudes toward different kinds of laws, explore in greater detail what they are hoping to achieve, and take greater care in examining the consequences.
In Menn’s assessment, Anonymous is characterized as a political entity that arose from 4chan, seen by many as one of the Internet’s seediest quarters. Then, the story goes, this group transmuted through a series of acts: from protesting the Church of Scientology, to showing support for Wikileaks, to assisting in uprisings across Africa and southwest Asia (elsewhere termed “Arab spring”). In January 2011, amidst an intense period of growth and transformation, Menn alleges, a bunch of criminal hackers showed up, overran and manipulated the network and have since royally messed everything up.
This story line is more wrong than right.
This article was originally published on The Social Text Journal.
French version: La science dissèque les Anonymous
Note Anonymiss Express: Great Article in my book!