[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

[R] is for Research Interests – Part II

Before finishing off my undergraduate degree, one of my favourite professors asked me if I had ever considered grad school. I had, but money was an issue. I had tapped out my OSAP funding and couldn’t even pay off my last semester of tuition. I owed the university money, which I had to pay to literally get a copy of my diploma, so that I could give my future employer (the federal government) a copy of said diploma to complete my hiring package and get a job after undergrad. I ended up taking out a loan through a private banking institution – my debt load and repayment is a topic for another day – to cross off that requirement.

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I spent about 8 months in the federal government, working first as an Executive Assistant and then as a Question Period Officer, before deciding to return to school. My work schedule and supervisor, as well as the Master of Arts program in Communication at the University of Ottawa, were flexible enough that I was able to enrol as a “Special Student” and begin graduate courses a semester early. I had been accepted to start the M.A. program in the Fall, but wanted to get a head start! The summer was a quiet time for a QP Officer, so physically going to class didn’t conflict with my work schedule.

When I applied to UOttawa, I had proposed studying the use of the television series 24 as a tool of propaganda. I had never seen a full episode, only previews for the series shown during the commercials of the shows that I watched (mostly reality television), and couldn’t get over how overtly racist it seemed. Although I’ve written several papers and even presented on the topic (i.e. the use of the ticking clock, the possibility that the portrayal of David Palmer paved the way for Barack Obama) and have some very interesting theories about the power of 24 (and television in general), I ended up switching topics following a seminar with my future supervisor.

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 To be continued…

[R] is for Research Interests – Part I

In addition to my field of study, my research interests have evolved since the beginning of my post-secondary ‘career’. Originally enrolled at the University of Ottawa in Environmental Studies (the artsy version of Environmental Sciences), I realized at a young age that the domain of traditional science isn’t for me. I struggled through classes in physical geography and evolutionary biology. I dabbled in microeconomics and the mandatory first-year philosophy classes and was miserable. I ended up on academic probation and felt lost academically. I’d never failed at anything before and wasn’t sure how to handle it or what to do next. That’s when a friend from grade school (who I happened to run into in one of those philosophy classes) suggested I register for an introductory class in Communications Studies.

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From the moment my professor walked into class, a respectable but hip man with a grey suit and a pierced ear, and started talking about the Internet and mobile phones, I was hooked! I pulled my act together fairly quickly, retaking the classes that I’d flunked – turns out that that “E” on my transcripts didn’t stand for “Excellent” – and adding in summer classes, with the goal of raising my GPA so that I could switch into an Honours program, majoring in Communications and minoring in Business Administration.

Success! In the summer semester of my second year, I officially transferred in and spent the rest of my undergrad making up for lost time. I completed my minor in Business Administration (nearly minoring in Accounting at the same time) as well as the major in Communications. The two programs complimented each other nicely – in Comms, I learned the theory behind the media; in Business, I learned the ‘bizness’ of the media, taking several marketing classes and putting theory to practice. All of those accounting classes were an added bonus.

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To be continued…