Not Anonymous Anymore, internet and the street

The rise of groups of geeks and hackers organized — however loosely — around a political agenda is a fairly new phenomenon, experts say. And combining such activism with more traditional forms of protest is perhaps a natural evolution.  “One of the big errors of our time is believing that what happens online is separate from what happens offline,” says Paul Levinson, author of New New Media and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York.  He says there’s a long tradition of disrupting the activities of the establishment to make a point, and that Anonymous is drawing on that tradition on multiple fronts.

What Anonymous has done by joining its online and offline presence comes out of the flash-mob craze that started in 2003, says Virag Molnar, a sociology professor at the New School for Liberal Arts in New York.  “We’ve seen a huge evolution in the purposes that flash mobs have been used,” she says. “Some can be used for progressive purposes, but they can also be used for rioting, hooliganism or gang activity.”Flash mobs set up via Twitter and Facebook have appeared at BP gas stations to demonstrate against the company’s handling of the Gulf oil spill. In Switzerland, Greenpeace organized a flash mob in which more than 100 people pretended to drop dead to protest nuclear power.  Social media tools also were linked to riots this summer in Vancouver and across Britain.

Anonymous claimed responsibility last month for hacking into some 70 law enforcement websites, garnering “a massive amount of confidential information,” including emails and credit card numbers. The move was in retaliation for the FBI arrest of 16 suspects for their alleged involvement in the PayPal denial of service attack…

History of Anonymous operations:

2006: The loosely organized collective carries out some of its first major acts of online mayhem, including a distributed denial of service [DDoS] attack that disables the website of radio host Hal Turner, known for racially charged remarks.

2008: Anonymous launches Project Chanology in retaliation for the Church of Scientology’s demand that YouTube remove a church video interview of actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise. In addition to launching DDoS attacks against Scientology websites, followers wearing masks of Guy Fawkes turn out for street protests at church centers mostly in the U.S. and Europe.

2009: Following the Iranian presidential election, with its widespread accusations of vote-rigging, Anonymous launches a website supporting the Iranian Green Party with the aim of skirting official censorship.

2010: Anonymous launches a DDoS attack against Australian government websites in retaliation for Canberra’s plan to implement anti-child-pornography Internet filtering software.  The group launches Operation Payback in support of WikiLeaks and its embattled chief, Julian Assange. Denial of service attacks hit the websites of PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon.

2011: Anonymous launches various operations in support of the Arab Spring, including denial of service attacks and hacks against government websites in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordon and Morocco.

Operation BART draws followers into San Francisco train stations to protest the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s decision to shut down cell phone service on the trains in an effort to quash an anti-police protest. Anonymous also hacks a BART website.

It has also spawned splinter groups such as Lulz Security (recently disbanded) and the Anti-Security Movement (still active) that have gone on to launch their own hacktivist attacks.   As the group’s name suggests, anonymity — particularly the kind that can be found in cyberspace — is important to many of its followers. Giving it up doesn’t come lightly. Members typically show up at protests sporting a mask in the likeness of the 16th century English radical Guy Fawkes.   Many Anons are in their 20s and 30s, but a few are in their 60s — the “grandfathers” of the movement….”  There is a sort of across-the-board free-speech sensibility that many Anons share, which many geeks and hackers share,” she says. “The libertarian label, though, ends at, ‘We believe in free speech.’ ”   While free speech and anti-censorship is a key part of the group’s ideology, there’s also a definite leftist and anti-capitalist strain in some Anons. “Beyond that,” she says, “it’s a pretty diverse lot.”…

Excerpt, Scott Neuman, Anonymous Comes Out In The Open, NPR, Sept. 16, 2011

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