By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer
After Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri, resident was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in August, they were there.
“We are Anonymous,” said the robotic voice-over in their YouTube video for #OpFerguson. “We Are Legion. We do Not Forgive. We do Not Forget. Ferguson, Expect us.”
But just who is this group of hacktivists who come out time and time again in order to find justice via the web? This was the question that Gabriella Coleman, the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University, attempted to answer during her lecture last Thursday, Oct. 16. Starting at 4 p.m., the talk, which was part of the Sidore Lecture series put on by the Center for the Humanities, gave an insight into how the group was formed and the other operations that it has done. The struggle, though, in trying to do this is the fact that Anonymous is not as unified as they might appear to be.
“It’s a name that’s free to take,” Coleman said. “This is one of the reasons why Anonymous has spread throughout the globe.”
The group started off as a trolling group, according to Coleman, looking only to humiliate any victim of their picking. When she first started participating in the chatrooms on 4chan’s website, even Coleman was subjected to trolling, with some members of the group posting photos of her without a head.
But when the Church of Scientology attempted to remove an embarrassing video of Tom Cruise from Gawker’s, an online media outlet, Anonymous stood up against what they believed to be a form for censorship and protested against them. On March 15, 2008, thousands of Anonymous members worldwide protested in front of churches in order to keep the video online.
Many protected their identity by wearing a Guy Fawkes mask — a look that has stuck with them since.
It wasn’t until Julian Assange, the founder of non-profit news-leak organization Wikileaks, was blocked from spending money on the Internet that Anonymous decided to take virtual action. The group, through a series of sophisticated hacks, was able to shut down Paypal’s and Mastercard’s websites for days.
This move, according to court filings from Paypal, cost that particular company more than $6 million in damages alone.
These are just a few examples of some of the protests that the group has done. After listening to some of the other examples, attendees who filled the roughly 200 seats of MUB Theater II were left both shocked and amazed.
Crystal Doyle and Alden Reed, two political science graduate students who came to the talk for a class, both believed the talk to be very thorough and both said that it was obvious that Coleman knew what she was talking about, though they did have some concerns about the group that the talk was centered around.
Doyle said in regards to the group’s use of trolling in all aspects of what they do, whether it be political or not. “I just don’t think the language that they’re using is particularly OK.”
Reed, in response to this, was able to decipher a much larger discussion from this.
“It seems like she has some interesting argument just about the role of trolling in general,” he said. “That’s almost kind of like the side bar to the main topic.”
Language aside, however, the main point of Coleman’s talk was to establish the historic important role of Anonymous and other hackers in the years to come.
“Hackers, in general, are the classic tricksters, not just Anonymous,” answered Coleman during the Q&A in reference to a point she made earlier in the talk about how the group can be seen a moral compass, regardless of the ethic righteousness behind their methods.
“The Internet, with your ability to take on so many different personas, lends yourself to the elements that embody the trickster psychology and myth,” Coleman said. “… [They] have to be made. We consider them in myth but they have to be historically created.”