Out of a sense of civic duty this reporter ensured that the "Riots" by "Anonymous" in London yesterday were covered, for you, the readers. As the first protest of it's kind, and having always been interested in the idea of "memes" since reading Dawkin's and Blackwell's books - I've been interested in the recent events. I think this protest is an important shift. Though not nessecellery a shift in the right direction. Or one that will last.
I'm going to ramble a little, but I've a lot to cover - and I've a busy week ahead. I've been meaning to mention all these shenanigans for a while now. So I suspect this'll be a quite long rant.
Who they are
If you've watched fox news then ANONYMOUS is a group of Internet Super Hackers on Steroids. It isn't. At all.
However If you don't know what "Anonymous" is - then it's embarrassing to tell you. Basically this is an excellent and comprehensive review. And you should read it.
But if you won't read that link here is a breakdown from what I've gathered. A forum called 4chan exists (I was going to write NSFW - but it's not safe full stop). You might read b3ta. Or Something Awful (who were also very involved in this). I'm sure you aware how they are less "appropriate" than other forums. Well 4chan is another step up.
On 4chan you don't need to register to post. You just post. No one ever has names. No one will remember you. Your posts will only last a few hours.
You combine that anonymity with a fan base of hormone riddled self-aware geeky teenagers and should-know-better twenty somethings (going by todays protests at least) and you get a site riddled with porn, extreme porn, shock images, racism and porn. Oh and porn. Please don't go there. Seriously. Not even in a "I'm telling you not too in order that you do" way. Seriously. No.
But crucially that anonymity serves another purpose. When posting on a chan board no karma, respect, friendship or trust can be built up over time. Which, it can be argued, are the main mechanisms that reward people for posting in normal forums (like "Bad Science"!). And it's that fact which is crucial. It means the reward for any creativity can only come from it's popularity. How often text becomes "copypasta" and how often people repost an image that you made.
So these sites become a thriving meme pool - ideas, jokes and pictures become a boiling soup of internet memes. The most popular survive. The weak die. Occasionally they get big enough (and socially acceptable enough) to break out of 4chan and invade the overbelly of the internet. Like LOLcats, Sparta, Rick Rolling and now it seems ANONYMOUS itself.
In short "ANONYMOUS" was an in-joke, postmodern, mythical "organisation" that people talking on the decrepit piss stain that is 4chan amused themselves by pretending it was a real, nebulous, secret group that is responsible for their actions. They like to pretend that they have a common cause and it's all part of a bigger plan. It's "post modern." It's self aware. It's a self deprecating joke infact. Nerdy, horny geeks aware they are nerdy horny geeks. Yes a proportion are evil little fucks, but the most are just people.
At the bottom of this concept is the idea that the internet is inherently stupid and it shouldn't be taken seriously. And anything personal you post on it shouldn't be taken seriously either.
And incredibly Fox News bought it.
They reported that this "ANONYMOUS," these bored teenagers, were infact a bunch of elite internet hackers "on steroids".
Whilst the DDoS attacks and the fucking up of kids lives are horrible, horrible things (and to be fair they've also foiled bomb threats and caught paedophiles), I do find amusement in the fact that Fox, so terrified of kids exposing themselves on the internet, have also become terrified of the very product of kids doing the opposite. This is kids being evil fucking kids, but the moral behind it is - "if you post personal shit on the internet you can't be sad when people laugh at you." That you can't afford to be serious on the internet. That baring your soul on your mypace and facebook pages is an inherently bad idea. And you can't really help but to agree with them about that.
But because Fox News believed in ANONYMOUS they bascially created it. They forged the meme and made it stronger than it ever could have been otherwise. And in doing so they created the protests around the world yesterday.
If your playing a silly game and someone takes you seriously that's inherently hilarious. And the game becomes more fun.
When the very real issue of Tom Cruise's mad rant flowering and being cut down all over the web occurred then it was only natural to pretend that ANONYMOUS wouldn't stand for it. If you are of the right mindset then it's only natural to think thats funny and awesome and carry the joke on. When you believe, as most young people do, that the internet is inherently ridiculous then a DDoS attack is just another joke. And so to attack the Scientology sites was a funny (to them) way to highlight the fucked-uppery of Scientology.
But of course whilst the internet is "serious buisness" the real world is actually serious business. When the excellent Mark Bunker of Xenu.net and a long time fighter against Scientology, criticised "ANONYMOUS" over the DDoS attacks and told them to protest peacefully and legally they listened. And what I find most interesting was that in order for his message to be heard and propigated they meme'd him.
They made him the "Wise Beard Man". So his ideas were worthy of being heard. That's important.
Then as the protests were getting nearer and they were galvanising, they cast of the anything goes policy of the internet and started organising, naturally on a wiki, collectively and anonymously. And crucially civility became a successful meme again.
But of course Scientology is ridiculous in the real world - and well known to film, identify then persecute its critics and protesters. Which goes hand in hand with a bunch mask wearing geeks who've watched and read V for Vendetta....
And so "ANONYMOUS," who even themselves didn't know if the joke was good enough to show up, showed up.
End of Part 1. Coming up next - How the day went - How Anon behaved and the people who tailed and photographed us.