What does online “hacktivist” collective Anonymous have in common with independent voters? Quite a lot, actually, as displayed in the documentary “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists.” We’re both interested in holding our government[s] accountable, exerting change on the political system from outside the traditional boundaries, and agitating for reform of broken systems. The main difference between independents and “Anons” being that Anonymous members are also determined hackers who’ve brought down major websites in the name of online activism, from corporate titans like Paypal and Visa to the MPAA and RIAA… and even the U.S. Department of Justice.
The story of We Are Legion looks back at Anonymous and starts with the beginning of the group’s formation on notorious internet chat/forum site 4chan (a sort of precursor to reddit). Really, the story is quite miraculous — who would have predicted some of the boldest activism of the 21st Century would evolve from “LOL cats” and internet trolls?
After showing how “Anons” got together, director Brian Knappenberger moves on to examine the beginning of hacktivism itself, the group’s protest against the Church of Scientology’s aggressive and intimidatory censorship of their infamous Tom Cruise video. Anonymous launched a series of denial of service attacks (website shutdowns), black faxes, prank calls, and physical protests against the Church’s internet censorship, and won big. Thanks to the unintentional comedy of one of Hollywood’s most eccentric leading men, an online force for fighting back against Big Brother was born.
Over the following five years, Anonymous has had their hands (and laptops) heavily involved in politically significant protests and movements of interest to independent voters, including Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and last year’s SOPA and PIPA internet freedom protests. Most recently they’ve become involved in two national news stories, helping to out the perpetrators of the controversial Steubensville rape in Ohio, as well as vowing to dismantle the über-hate group Westboro Baptist Church in response the church’s announced intention to protest the funerals of children massacred in the Sandy Hook, CT school shooting. Anonymous members have taken part in countless other smaller scale efforts that might seem esoteric or trivial to anyone not heavily involved in internet culture, but overall, it adds up to quite a body of work.
So what can independent voters learn from We Are Legion and the story of Anonymous?
- The Internet is an incredible organizing tool for activism in the 21st century. Independent voters tired of being dictated to may find new ways to hold our two-party system more accountable through internet activism.
- Change can start from the bottom up — Anonymous was born out of the rather immature internet culture of memes and “trolling,” and in ten years has “grown up” and blossomed into a disruptive hacktivist network that may be the world’s best tool to fight back against government, corporate, or any other injustice leveled by an abuse of power.
- “We can attain information that can’t be attained by the institutional journalistic process — information that could only be obtained by a congressional or federal oversight committee…” Anonymous and their hacktivist affiliates are a tremendous resource for independent minded voters and thinkers who don’t [completely] rely on the Mainstream media for their sources of news and information.
What do you think of hacktivism, Anonymous, and We Are Legion as an independent voter? Is “hacktivism” a crime — or exactly what’s necessary to hold our government, multinational corporations, and our major political parties more accountable? Share your thoughts in the comments.