For anyone who has never heard of anonymous, they are a disparate group of individuals that have collectively banded together to partake in cyber activity, such as distributing and releasing information about individuals, attacking websites and groups online, and also infiltrating governmental, political, and bureaucratic agencies databases and websites. Anonymous abide by no particular overall moral, political, or agenda framework; instead they rely on unwritten codes of conduct, respond to particular gripes with individuals or groups, and retaliate to attacks on their members or other affiliates.
Anonymous are a selection of activists and ‘hacktivists’ worldwide that partake in denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on websites, they change material on websites that they are attacking, they release the identities of members of opponent groups and affiliations, and even hold some organisations and organisations to ransom and threat. Some of their activities is minor vandalism and nuisance-causing, while other activity may cause very serious privacy and security breaches for individuals, groups and businesses alike. Throughout 2015 they have appeared to have become more prevalent within the media and have claimed attacks on a number of organisations during the year (ISIS, terrorist sects, the KKK, Canadian government websites, racist groups in Australia, and the Charlie Hebdo attackers).
Originating from the board 4chan in 2003, they have no direct centralised control or command system for their actions, but seem to have quite loose beliefs and objectives. Some of these include, but are not limited to: anti-racism, anti-censorship, anti-copyright, and certain religious, political, and groupings such as Scientology, the Westboro Baptist Church, and ISIS. While there is little cohesion amongst their activities and aims, they see themselves as freedom fighters, social movement advocates, and activists for social, political and economic change throughout the globe.
However, can such a disparate group have any cohesion in policy and beliefs if there is no overriding authority figure or centralisation of control? Who makes decisions and who gets the final say when there is a conflict of opinion, whether it is a valuative or technical difference? Are they just a group of immature kids digitally pranking others or is this the new face of social activism? These are some very difficult questions to answer without further analysis of their actions, so perhaps a visual diagram may aid our investigation:
|Scientology attempted to remove a video of Tom Cruise from the internet (2008)||DoS attacks; black faxes to waste ink cartridges; address Scientology’s tax exemption status; prank calls; spamming chat rooms and physical protests||- To enlighten members of the wrongs of Scientology
- Save people from brainwashing
- Response against censorship
- Scientology human rights abuse
|PayPal cut off Wikileaks from the use of its service (2010)||DoS attacks; used botnets to attack PayPal website; disrupted PayPal site and cost them US$ 5.5 million in trade||- Retribution/revenge attack
- Protection of freedom of speech
|Tunisian and Middle Eastern regimes (2011 – 2013)||Hijack government websites; replacing it with Anonymous material; protect citizens from spying; sharing videos about the revolutions and Dos attacks||- Anti-censorship
- Pro democratic participation
- Protection of freedom of speech
- Support political change (liberal views, anti-oppressive regimes)
|Westboro Baptist Church (2012) and ‘God hates fags’||Hijacked their website; posting Anonymous material; DoS attacks; publish personal details of members||- Anti-homophobia and hate groups
- Revenge for picketing innocents’ funerals
|Sony Playstation 3 (2011)||Hacked 100 million accounts of its users; knocked service off for a month; attacked security||- Demonstrated the lack of security of the site and its users
- Demonstration of abilities
|Child pornographers (2012)||Hacked into Lolita child pornography site; leaked the names of child pornographers||- Moral stance against paedophiles and rapists
|Ku Klux Klan (2014 – 2015) made death threats to protestors in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown||DoS attacks on KKK website; replacing with Anonymous material; hacked Twitter and server accounts; later released identity of 1,000 KKK members||- Anti-racism/anti-violence
- Freedom of speech and protest
- Retribution/revenge attack
- Doxxing of those they oppose
|ISIS (2015) following the numerous beheading videos posted to Youtube and the Paris attacks||DoS attacks on Isis websites; hacking into Isis Facebook and Twitter accounts; doxxing Isis members; replaced with Anonymous imagery; overwhelming their servers||- Anti-violence/death of non-combatants
- Retribution/revenge attack (Isis also mocked Anonymous)
- Moral stance against terrorism
- It will ‘unite humanity’
As can be seen from this extensive list of attacks and groups that Anonymous have been involved with, there is no strict set formula or overlap between values. Their values and reasons for attacking these specific groups and the many other targets that are not listed in table demonstrate the wide variety and values of the group. Some of the main oppositions of the group are: censorship; copyright; homophobia; racism; violence; and attacks against humanity as a whole and against individual freedoms. Many of the things that they try to promote are: equality; privacy of innocents (not necessarily those they oppose); promotion of liberal political change; freedom of information; freedom of gathering and protest; protection of the young and vulnerable; and freedom from interference or control of governments and religious organisations.
While their attacks and targeted groups are very diverse, and while they have no strict philosophical or political agenda, they do have very definitive overlapping themes, as can be seen from the table. Their political and ethical agenda would lean strongly towards liberal ideologies and away from constrictive, repressive, and prejudice forms of society or governmental rule. They aim to take down certain political groups, affiliations, and even individuals that disagree or oppose their views, values and organisation as a whole. Their enemies are quite diverse but the themes that Anonymous stand against are: hatred, violence, prejudice, racism, censorship, and preying on the vulnerable.
However, due to the lack of consistency and uniformity of attacks by Anonymous, many questions may be raised about the legitimacy, effectiveness and principles of this disparate non-hierarchical group. What identifies and categorises as an Anonymous target? With all of the injustices, abuses, and wrongs in the world, why do they mostly concentrate on issues that pop up in Western countries? Why not tackle and address many of the problems that are occurring around the world? Why attack ISIS and not Boko Haram, Hamas, or Hezbollah instead? What did Sony PlayStation users do to deserve their security being threatened? Does the end justify the means of their actions and should we always look to the bigger picture rather than the minor inconveniences caused through service attacks (PayPal etc)? What happens when their information is wrong about doxxed individuals?