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Anonymous - The Global Commoner

Anonymous at the intersection of government, the private sector and civil society


This paper will discuss the phenomenon of anonymous, a group of international activists, known as ”anons” who were anti-cyber-survillance, anti-cyber-censorship, internet vigilantism. In the last years, public protesting, leaking, and hacking personal or governmental computers has turned into a practice. What gave power to Anonymous? Was it their strategy? Were they seeking media attention with their bold actions? What moves people to set aside their everyday life to participate in rallies and engage in public protests that risks their freedom? 


The question why common people accept to be part of illegal movements like those of anonymous is asking for a complex answer that combines anthropological, sociological, economical views because Anonymous has no strictly defined philosophy. As a natural response, governmental institutions are researching for ways to control, contain and prevent hacking-like activities conducted by Anonymous, an Internet governance strategy.


As always, the public motivation is debated fiercely for its honesty. Both, Anons and authorities, acted in the name of necessity for protecting public values, truth that must be known by everybody, preserving public priorities and for a normally functioning society. But in the great arrangement of social elements there are more sides of possible interpretations of these actions.


Carl Bildt, Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations said: “In most countries, increased attention is being given to all the issues of net freedom, net security and net governance. And they are, in my view, closely related to each other. The rapid evolution of the net has been made possible by the open and flexible model by which it has evolved and been governed. But increasingly this is coming under attack. And this is happening as issues of net freedom, net security and net surveillance are increasingly debated. Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies.”


The Global Commission is a two-year initiative formed by 25 members drawn from various fields from around the world, including policy makers and government officials, academia and civil society. The initiative of Global Commission is to produce a comprehensive stand on the future of multi-stakeholder Internet governance.


Coordinating with other teams of researchers we can expect a change in legislation. That is because governance is established and mediated through law. In practice, most likely, western national legislations will have to harmonize in order to be applicable. Since we live in a global economy we need global governance. Global governance is a magic tool for some, a catastrophe in waiting for others. It is said that it is highly the time for creating a worldwide understanding and acceptable philosophy for domestic government. The Arab Spring, the marches like Occupy Wall Street, or the violent clashes in Hong Kong where Anons were threatening with a major blackouts on mainland and on the island under the name Operation Hong Kong are small dots on the great map of reshaping social and governmental power. Technological innovation can be a force for improvement but Anonymous wants to make people aware of the moral and political consequences of how we use technology. 


IT knowledge is power. Hacking like activities gave birth to a political party as the Pirate Party in Europe with numerous subscribers from all EU countries. Whistle-blower Julian Assange got internationally famous with highly sensitive information on Wiki Leaks. The notorious Edward Snowden, an ex-NSA employee, got even more attention from media and politicians. They are just a few examples of Anonymous type activities. An elusive form of organization that can vary in numbers from one to hundreds of thousands, without having a team of specialists to think long term projects or finances, Anonymous strikes fear into corporations, governments and other groups.


            A new kind of social movement: cyber protests.


Tens of protsters have been arrested for involvement in Anonymous cyber attacks all over Europe, US or Australia. In 2008, Project Chanology, a pranking campaign against the Church of Scientology, draws the attention towards Anonymous. This was the first time Anonymous was associated with hacktivism. The first person to be sent to jail for participation in a distributed denial of service (DDoS ) Anonymous cyber assault was Dmitry Guzner, a nineteen-year-old American. The young man pledged guilty to "unauthorized impairment of a protected computer" in November 2009 and was sentenced to 366 days in US federal prison.


Since 2009, Anonymous protests, hacks, and DDoS attacks continued to diversify. Non-negotiable freedom of speech is an idea associated with Anonymous activities. While governmental control is on the rise, public surveillance is not an issue any more. In this context Anonymous affirm the importance of privacy and anonymity. Campaigns in support of individuals, fiery protest movements over the economic crisis in Spain in 2011, Occupy movement and the Arab and African Spring are just some examples. Related groups LulzSec and Operation AntiSec are responsible for cyber attacks on US government agencies, media, military contractors, and police officers. In spite of their success to public, Anonymous is unpredictable in its efficiency or will to get involved. It was a new kind of public reaction and its triggers are under scrutiny in all governmental offices around the world.


Anonymous is not unanimous


This message has yet to penetrate to public consciousness. All the characteristics of a social movement described by Donatella Della Porta and Mario Diani in “ Social Movements, An Introduction” are easily recognizable in Anonymous various activities. In the view of della Porta and Diani, a social movement can be described as a gathering of large group of people who set a social or political target to achieve by public protests. Although this sort of demonstrations could be seen as an expression of democracy for freedom of gathering and of speech, it is interesting to see the relativity of the outcome of their protests or hacking like activities.


Talking about “identity” Della Porta and Diani defined it using facts as well as processes. Identity from the perspective of a social movement is not of an individual. With Anonymous we see they rely on large participation of people. Identity is a process, say Della Porta. Within Anonymous, social actors interact in real life circumstances molding a collective sense for their actions, a common set of symbols to refer to, of values to support and aspirations to achieve. More than that, Anonymous is a good exemplification of Della Porta and Diani’s definition of identity. We recognize easily Anonymous in “a process by which social actors recognize themselves - and are recognized by others - as part of broader groupings, and develop emotional attachments to them.” An example of Anonymous activity that supports this theory is: “Call of the European Social Movements” from November 2002 when protesters from over half of Europe gathered in Florence, Italy to show their support for social rights and freedom of speech, movement and access to information.


The strongest characteristic for the Anonymous movement is that it has no leadership. In the same time, no action can be attributed to the membership as a whole. Because of this, continuity of actions is problematic. Because social movements have periods of “visible” and “latent” phases as Della Porta and Diani discover “Identity is nurtured by the hidden actions of a limited number of actors”. And it is precisely the ability of these small groups to reproduce certain representations and models of solidarity over time which creates the conditions for the revival of collective action and allows those concerned to trace the origins of new waves of public action to preceding mobilizations.


To show continuity, European Social Movements was an episode of other public protests that took place in different capitals of Europe. Under the umbrella of the same idea, in defense of piracy and file sharing, Internet Relay Chat server (IRC) came to life to fight against pro-copyright associations such as Motion Picture Association of America.  With periods of time of standstill, from time to time Anon Ops IRC chat rooms show evidence of activity. It is hard to predict if and where they will get active. The operation called “Freedom Ops” gave, for several months, technical support to local hackers all around the Arab region. 


The legacy of Anonymous movements is explained by an anon who sent a message to a reporter from Tech Herald: “Let us teach you a lesson you’ll never forget: you don’t mess with Anonymous. You especially don’t mess with Anonymous simply because you want to jump on a trend for public attention. You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you’ve tried to steal honey. Did you think the bees would not defend it? Well here we are. You’ve angered the hive, and now you are being stung. It would appear that security experts are not expertly Secured”.


Because of the diversity of the activities conducted by Anons all around the world, even the definition for multiple identities fits Anonymous phenomena. And if Della Porta and Diani are wondering if identity facilitates participation, it is obvious in case of Anonymous that exactly this identity is the trigger for gatherings in public places or on line. Their symbol is the Guy Fawkes mask.


In the 1980s two graphic novelists created a comic strip, "V for Vendetta", in which an anarchist revolutionary battles a totalitarian government, a fascist authoritarian state. Officially Licensed by Warner Brothers this is the symbol for international social movement: Anonymous. Anonymous members (known as "Anons") identify themselves in public by the wearing a stylized Guy Fawkes mask.


Anonymous, a twelve degree grand master


When Saul Alinsky wonders how a protest tactic is chosen, Anonymous is a perfect case study.

Tactical choices, Alinsky says, are made as interaction develops. Occupy Wall Street started as a single blog post, inspired by the series of armed rebellions that spread in the Arab world in the early 2010s and it is known as the Arab Spring. Occupy Wall Street grew from a plan to peacefully occupy the area setting up tents, kitchens to launch a website, to Anonymous functioning as PR for the movement that turned into rallies and marches across New York and Washington D.C.. from street protest, the manifestations grew into a different movement. Anons were occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, foreclosed homes, and college and university campuses. The authorities response consisted of governmental surveillance through a joint task force oriented to stop terrorism, tens of arrests were made and protesters were scattered.


Nevertheless, “Occupy Wall Street” and similar movements turned into a surprising rise of direct democracy. They certainly did what Alinsky defines as a tactic of war and Anons took the authorities by surprise. As far as the resource mobilization approach we can say that a parallel movement aroused to support financially every day activities but also some for the future. If we consider strategy as David S. Meyer does, “a strategy is a combination of claim (or demand), a tactic, and a site (or venue)” we have in case of Occupy Wall Street a classic example for a social movement strategy. The recipe of Meyer’s strategy and tactics is followed in every chapter. In the chapter “Sense of Place”, Meyer deals with the issue of credibility, of establishing legitimacy. Because of large scale social status represented and expressed goals like reducing the influence of corporations on politics the massive public response, certainly, gave credibility and legitimacy to this movement. One of the outcomes is a higher sense of self as individuals but as group as well.  


A sleeping power is revived


A dormant power of the masses was discovered in the movements organized by Anonymous like Occupy Wall Street in 2011, like in many others. It gave a taste of power to the public and an appetite for direct democracy. ‘Occupy’ didn’t solve any social problem but affirmed cohesion in needs and expectations, proved individuals are able to cooperate, to mobilize themselves in the name of a common vision. Micah White was highly educated man in his early 30swhen he saw the protests of Tahrir Square, As an activist and former Adbusters editor who and launched the Occupy Wall Street movement, Micah White believed that “If there’s gonna be a revolution, it’ll happen non-violently. I think it’ll be a very peaceful kind of. It’ll be more like an awakening, you know”?


Anonymous lesson

When a group of people of a variety of backgrounds, with virtually no finances, no rigid hierarchy and no permanent membership succeeds to start movements around the world it is highly the time for governmental officials to recalibrate their rhetoric and to start quickly to rethink their attitude and goals. Common people, scholars, consultants, specialists, Anons or not could design a modern, free functioning, democratic, social system for a new type of society. As there are global governance ambitions another force is on the rise: the global commoner.

Editor: Kyenila Taylor

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