Anonymous has always been growing, changing, and redefining itself. Some suggest it may now be expanding beyond hacktivism and identity-hiding, and into an ideology. Perhaps, one can be Anonymous without being literally anonymous.
For a while, I’d been noticing a trend in the way people who call themselves Anonymous seemed to think and act. Several days ago, this post on Pastebin summed it up quite nicely for me:
Anonymous is not a group. Many of us form groups, but Anonymous is not about groups.
Anonymous is not a hacker collective. Many of us hack, but Anonymous is not about hacking.
Anonymous does not live on the Internet. Many of us meet and communicate online, but Anonymous is not just about the Internet.
Anonymous is a movement. An idea. A meme. Over years and years, it has grown and matured: beginning like an immature child, pulling pranks and causing chaos with no rhyme or reason; then becoming a formidable activist movement, devoted to the freedom of information and anti-censorship.
And lately, as global society begins to collapse, with the legitimacy of our leaders and institutions eroding every day, Anonymous is growing once more, its purpose becoming clearer and further realized.
Many Anons hide our identities, but Anonymous is not about hiding. We hide our names and our faces because they are irrelevant. [Emphasis mine]
Names are a distraction from the words we say, and the actions we take. They are, at best, a nuisance, and at worst, a serious danger to human thinking. This is why Anonymous does not support politicians. We do not support parties. We do not support named ideologies. We do not support cults, be they cults of dogma or of personality.
We don’t want to know your name. We don’t want to know if you are a liberal, a conservative, a capitalist, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, an anarchist, a green, or whatever. All we care about is whether we like the things that you say, and the things that you do.
So from time to time, some of us may remove our masks, or let our identities slip. But we will still be Anonymous. For we have surrendered our egos, and ignore the egos of others.
We are Anonymous, people who have freed our minds from the tyranny of names.
One could argue, isn’t Anonymous just another name? To which we say: it is the anti-name. The name to end all names.
There’s a host of anecdotes suggesting that many self-described Anons are beginning to view Anonymous as a ideological movement. “You can’t arrest an idea” was the response to FBI threats against LulzSec; LulzSec, of course, being one of many Anonymous-affiliated groups — perhaps comparable to Greenpeace’s affiliation with the green movement, or PETA’s to the animal rights movement. The popular new forum What Is The Plan flies the banner of Anonymous for adamantly hacking-unrelated purposes, reinforcing the notion that Anonymous has a mission beyond its most infamous methods. And, of course, the vast support and turnout of Anonymous at Occupy Wall Street, a social change action only tangentially related to the Internet or technology.
It’s that last one which really makes the Pastebin manifesto resonate; Occupy Wall Street is almost an exact manifestation of what it describes. Vocal support for politicians of any party or political stripe is nearly absent. Arguments that the occupation should focus on “abolishing capitalism” or “let’s have socialism/anarchism in America” fail to gain widespread support. Celebrities such as Roseanne Barr, Michael Moore, Cornel West, and others inspire the movement with their appearances, but do not become the faces, voices, or leaders of it. Instead, the gears are turned by no-name, average people discussing specific, concrete issues and solutions.
Few of these average people make much of an effort to hide their identities, but they don’t play them up either; they speak with their words, not with their names. This is partially because of the limitations of physical versus online communication: voices can’t easily be obscured, and masks can be uncomfortable after prolonged use or get you arrested in New York City.
But online, many Anons do end up being decidedly onymous: from pseudonyms in IRC channels, forums, and Twitter accounts, to the names of groups like LulzSec and C@b!nCr3w. The fact that most don’t (willingly) reveal their “real” names is hardly the point; when all’s said and done, which specific Anon or Anonymous-affiliated group took an action is often an incidental curiosity. For example, how many articles about Anonymous’ leak of NYPD officer Anthony Bologna’s personal info even bother to mention that it was done by the aforementioned C@b!nCr3w?
These bits and pieces — one Anon’s musings on Pastebin, the ramifications of pseudonyms and named groups within Anonymous, and the Anonymous-influenced Occupy Wall Street — are all, admittedly, just that: bits and pieces. They’re not rock-solid proof of a cohesive and clear definition of the Anonymous movement, or the driving ideas behind it. But Anonymous has never been particularly clear, cohesive, or rock-solid. It’s nearly impossible to accurately define what it is at any particular moment in time, so it may be positively Sisyphean to forecast what it may be morphing into next.
However, the notion of Anonymous as an ego-blind destroyer of weasel words, jargon, charlatanry, and bullshit in general is intriguing. It’s hard to argue that this world needs less cult-of-personality and dogma, and more individuals thinking for themselves. If Anonymous stands for a society in which people focus less on the egos of politicians, businessmen, and experts, and more on the ideas they communicate — regardless of which school of thought they come from — then hell, I’d gladly call myself Anonymous.