[A] is for Anonymous – A paper and presentation in progress (Part I)

Last semester, in my Theories of Media Studies seminar, I prepared a paper on the subject of hacktivism. In particular, the paper explored hacktivism using Lasswell’s (1948) model of the process of communication – who says what through which channel to whom and to what effect. Using the hacktivist group Anonymous as a case study, this paper was guided by the following framework:

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous?
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

The paper drew upon news articles and scholarly works examining the membership, activities and messages of Anonymous as well as the 2012 YourAnonMedia video entitled “How to join Anonymous – A beginners guide”. In the lead up to the conference that I’ll be presenting the next iteration of this paper at, I’ll be posting the first one is several pieces – including the final table, which will be populated as we go along.

“Anonymous”: The Voluntary Faceless Other
In the Context of Hacktivism, is the Medium the Message?

Who is Anonymous?

“We come from all places of society: We are students, workers, clerks, unemployed; We are young or old, we wear smart clothes or rugs, we are hedonists, ascetics, joy riders or activists. We come from all races, countries and ethnicities. We are many. We are your neighbours, your co-workers, your hairdressers, your bus drivers and your network administrators. We are the guy on the street with the suitcase and the girl in the bar you are trying to chat up. We are Anonymous.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

 

The specific identity of Anonymous group members as well as the precise number of members is unknown. The group’s self-description claims that it is far-reaching and that it encompasses individuals from all professions and social classes, of all ages, races, and ethnicities. Its members and supporters claim that its ‘membership’ (for lack of a better word) has and continues to grow in numbers (Potter, 2015):

“We are more than you think. We are more than anybody thinks. We are many.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

However, Anonymous members come and go as they please, participating in the group’s activities as much or as little as they want:

“All we are is people who travel a short distance together — much like commuters who meet in a bus or tram: For a brief period of time we have the same route, share a common goal, purpose or dislike.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Based on the foregoing, it can be concluded that the membership of Anonymous is both unstable and constantly in flux. If this is true, then Anonymous can be defined as having a collective identity, whose “whole is something greater than the sums of its parts” (Potter, 2015, p.10). Anonymous therefore “emerges from [a] collection of individuals but is not reducible to them” (ibid, emphasis in original). This means that as long as hacktivists perform acts in the name of, or on behalf of, Anonymous, Anonymous will always exist (Caldwell, 2015). Potter (2015) states that, in this context, “[t]he old adage ‘cut off the head and the body will die’ simply does not apply, because there is no head” (p.13). This proposition is supported by the Anonymous motto, featured prominently on its website:

“We are a Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect Us.”
– Anonymous (2016)

 

Thus, when Anonymous or one of its derivatives is used in specific contexts, it signals that other like-minded individuals, that friends not foes, are abound:

“At the time of this writing, Facebook, Twitter and the IRC [AnonNet] appear to host the most active congregations [of Anonymous]. But this may change at any time. Still, these are probably the best places to get started. Look for terms like “anonymous”, “anonops” and other keywords that might be connected to our activities.”
– YourAnonMedia (2012)

Using terms like “anonymous” and “anonops”, and wearing the Guy Fawkes’ mask establishes a common language and a set of cultural practices that Anonymous members can both identify with and mobilize around. As such, it is one mechanism for unifying what would otherwise be very disparate actors (Flesher Fominaya, 2010, p.395). While the identity of individual Anonymous members is generally unknown, the social movement is identifiable by its pseudonym and derivatives and by its association with Guy Fawkes. In the absence of clear, authoritative leadership, when a social movement has a fluctuating and diverse membership that is based on anonymity and secret identities but is nevertheless identifiable, is it possible for that group to articulate a coherent message?

[To be continued…]

Conclusion (To date)

Lasswell’s Process of Communication

Case Study: Anonymous

Who says Who is the sender? Who is Anonymous? A social movement (collection of individuals) with a fluctuating and diverse membership
What What is being sent? What messages are being sent by Anonymous?
Through which channel What medium is used? Which medium(s) are being used by Anonymous?
To whom Who is the audience/ receiver? Who is the recipient of the messages?

Who is Anonymous’ intended audience?

To what effect What is the meaning? What is the effect of the messages?

In addition to the above, Anonymous uses several symbols to convey its message and to signal its presence to its targets and members – the Guy Fawkes’ mask, terms like “Anonymous” and “anonops”.

 

Sources:

Caldwell, T. (2015). Hacktivism goes hardcore. Network Security. May: 12-17.

Flesher Fominaya, C. (2010). Collective Identities in Social Movements: Central Concepts and Debates. Sociology Compass. 4(6): 393-404.

Lasswell, H. (1948). The structure and function of communication in society. In Schramm, W. & Roberts, D. (eds) The Process and Effect of Mass Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Potter, Garry. (2015). Anonymous: A Political Ontology of Hope. Theory in Action. 8(1): 1-22.

YourAnonMedia. (2012). How to join Anonymous – a beginners guide. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdL3aU0yZBE

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jdeemillphd

Ph.D. student specializing in vampires, werewolves, zombies and the law. Runner, cyclist, weightlifter and yogi. Doggie mama and all around weirdo.

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