What Is Anonymous? It’s Not Hackers, More Like a Digital “Sit In” Protest

The enigma that is Anonymous has played a pivotal role during the imprisonment of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the revolution in Egypt by closing down websites that were opposing their cause. Nearly universally, the media (mainstream and online) has labeled Anonymous as hacktivists or a group of hackers. They got it wrong. They don’t get it. They are stuck in analogthink.
Anonymous is not a group of hackers. It is not even a static group. It does not have leaders or even members: People chat on the internet, decide on a common goal (the hivemind forms) and choose an operation (i.e. Operation Payback, Operation Tunisia). Who’s on board for any particular Op (operation) is not known to anyone else since the members for that Op are anonymous to each other. Anonymous is a concept where people come together anonymously for common goals.
Anonymous is a concept/strategy/meme: the concept is presently being used by concerned netizens to oppose censorship. They assemble on internet chat. So far Anonymous Ops: have not been malicious, have been nonviolent, have (in fact) prevented violence, and have expressed a strong ethos for freedom of speech, freedom from censorship. Their means of protest are varied—the most effective is to flood a website with bogus requests (DDoS: Distributed Denial of Service) until it gets overloaded and closes down. This is the digital equivalent of the sixties “Sit In” (where protesters occupied a strategic building with many bodies, sat on the floor and made demands).
The DDoS flooding of sites is Anonymous’ major weapon and no hacker knowledge is necessary. Target sites go down for a short period of time. If Anonymous has hackers they are showing a lot of restraint: a lot (I mean A LOT) more damage could be done. Some low-level hacking is done—defacing homepages of governments which is a prank to bolster the morale of the protesters.
Physical protests have played a vital role in shaping people’s progress in the last century from the Women’s Suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement to the various Anti-war Protests from Vietnam to Iraq. Anonymous embodies a new form of protest: a cyber-protest which has so far been surprisingly effective and very promising. Much of the oppression in the world is done by stealth, in secrecy: the villains are anonymous whether they be part of dictatorships, democratic governments, corporations, or secret societies of the ultra-rich. For a protest group to be anonymous levels the playing field. Anonymous is an experiment that must be conducted.
Anonymous is not a bunch of hackers: Ordinary people from all countries and all walks of life participate in Anonymous Ops. The software they use to make a website too busy—DDoS programs (Distributed Denial of Service) can be used easily by anyone—and there is no defense against DDoS. DDoS has been used to overload websites with bogus requests since the 1990s. The DDoS software (LOIC – Low Orbit Ion Canon) is pretty weak so you need a lot of participants to take down a site: like bees stinging a huge bear—one bee is just an itch–you need thousands of bees stinging at the same time to drive the bear away. This is a very effective check on the integrity of the Ops because a smaller number of people with dubious ethical intentions could not carry out an Op successfully.
I participated on the IRC channel #opegypt yesterday and it was a cocophany of crossing conversations: jokes, philosophy, fury at Egyptian government actions, news about arrests in Egypt, discussion of Middle East politics and religion, more jokes, outing a “newsfag”, trolls screaming that Anonymous is a CIA Op, all amid the discussion of current news out of Egypt and DDoSing target sites with LOIC over anonymous networks. It’s a wonder anything gets accomplished, but many times, serious discussion of Operations in Egypt often prevails and what shines through is the highest moral values of the participants: genuine concern for the people in the streets in Egypt, paramount is the ethic against government control of free speech, abhorrence of violence, and a disgust for oppression by the state. The participants are not nihilist hackers.
Their ideal of free speech was repeatedly put to the test in discussions on #opalgeria and #opegypt channels: citizens of both countries wanted Anonymous to target media outlets spewing government propaganda (as well as than government websites). This goes to the very heart of Anonymous’ ethos. The demands of the protesters on the streets were met with the same response every time — Anonymous is committed to free speech, regardless of who uses it, and will not target the media, no matter what they say — “no media including Fox or state run”.
“You may not agree with what they say,” said one participant, “but you will LOIC to the death for their right to say it.”
Anonymous has developed an idealistic ethos: that people (who join in their enterprise) are an invincible force that can defeat tyranny and bring freedom to the oppressed people of the world. On the Internet, there is a growing awareness that there is a network of councils and organizations and secret societies that control the governments of the world and a slow realization that the economies of nearly all countries are controlled by privately-owned “central banks” masquerading as each government’s bank (i.e. The Federal Reserve). The Anonymous model for activism may be the only hope for people who want to live in a democratic world and not a plutocratic world. The other option is for governments, corporations and the secret organizations of the ultra-rich to have all the power to manipulate the new communications media.
Note: This article was about Anonymous Operations–their public protests (LOIC attacks) to influence political events. On the other hand, individuals or organizations that have attacked Anonymous by trying to infiltrate, expose or run a campaign against Anonymous have experienced their hacker wrath: Anonymous has counter-attacked with devastating hacker force–posting private e-mails on The Pirate Bay and bragging about completely wiping out data.