Digital culture and the Anonymous tactic

From one of the more intelligent commentaries I’ve seen about Anonymous

“… their tactics … were a lot like high school pranks: sometimes silly, sometimes crude, often juvenile and always motivated by a strong sense of righteous indignation. The collective culture of Anonymous was born in the /b/ section 4chan, an internet forum worthy of its own lengthy article. Suffice it to say that 4chan thrives on trolling, griefing, digital bullying and generally offensiveness of all sorts.

“The targets of campaigns attributed by Anonymous suggest an eccentric unpredictably similar to the internet board it was born on.”

“To understand the history of Anonymous I find it helpful to look at it as a tactic more then a group. That is, when there is a critical mass of outrage in 4chan and related gathering spaces, they pick up the Anonymous banner, dust it off and rally an ad-hoc group to the banner for the latest campaign. Over time, the Anonymous tactic has gained more and more recognition and it’s visibility has made it increasingly useful as a tool for gathering energy, raising visibility and pressuring those it targets.”

“When it comes to morality, looking at Anonymous as a tactic makes the moral reasoning more complex. We can’t just pick out one example of how its been used and make a blanket judgement on every use in the future. But we can notice patterns. For example, it does seems to lend itself to large groups focusing their anger on one entity. Because it is not tied to any physical location it has limited accountability to traditional governing bodies. Indeed, it tends to set up its own governance system for any given operation or project, similar to a strike committee … It also has clear parallels to traditional vigilante justice, though it is not physically violent.”

“However the comparison to traditional nonviolence tactics has its limit. As a digital tactic it is connected the anonymity and collective consciousness of the internet culture that spawned it. Many of those shaping this tactic are teenagers who have never known a time without the internet. They take its tools for granted. If Clay Shirky is right they, like the generation born after the printing press, will be the ones who find ways to use these new tools in ways that are disruptive in ways that we can’t predict. In the end, it may be less like Lexington and more like Luther’s 95 thesis: nailed to the door of a 1500 year old institutions, but spread round the European world by the cutting edge technology of the printing press.”

3 thoughts on “Digital culture and the Anonymous tactic

  1. Is this a sign that the future is not going to be a dystopian one that our parents feared, but a more free but ultimately chaotic one?
    I see all this as revolutionary and in some ways needed, much like Luthors reforms, but I don’t consider myself aligned with the sources of where this revolution began.
    It’s just a shame that it’s left to what can be considered the morally seared section of society to rise up in the name of freedom against tyrannical forces that often the church aligns itself with.
    Still, Big Brother never saw this coming… the birth of erratic and wilful Little Sister.


  2. Matt,
    I’m glad that you found my post helpful. I had a lot of fun writing it.
    I like your image of the birth of a willful and erratic Little Sister. Have you read Cory Doctorow’s book _Little Brother_? It’s a delightful Young Adult Science Fiction book written a few years ago that envisions a resistance to Big Brother growing out of hacker/maker youth culture. It helped me wrap my head around some of these big ideas. It’s available free for download here:


  3. @Wes. More chaotic? Yes I think so. And likewise I have mixed feelings. I can appreciate their energy and edginess but it’s undisciplined and inconsistent, morally and otherwise. Who knows what may come of it.
    @Tim. Thanks for writing it. That comment about thinking of Anonymous as a tactic rather than a movement particularly opened up some a ha moments for me.


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