Social Dynamics of the Low Orbit Ion Cannon

Yesterday’s post about group behavior when faced with changing conditions elicited some response. Despite my not having mentioned the ongoing attacks anywhere in the entire text, my comment field filled with people defending Anonymous. No, not so much defending Anonymous, actually, as… maybe feeling uneasy over my post as such. Apparently, something in the text stepped on a toe. Thankfully, a bit later, more people stepped in and understood what I was trying to say; that things aren’t always as easy as good and evil. I think those comments were among the most thoughtful and worthwhile I’ve had in quite a while.

Let there be no mistake: I strongly criticize any and all attacks on infrastructure (like other Pirate Party leaders do internationally, as well as others). We are here to defend the Internet. The Internet is infrastructure. We defend that from all attacks, political and technical. We are here to defend freedom of speech. You cannot do that by silencing your opponent. But then again, that is my particular position in this complex situation, partly out of necessity to stay parliamentarily credible, and besides, it is not my prerogative to dictate to anybody else what their values nor actions should look like.

A brief bit of primer here, for people unfamiliar with the terms: “Anonymous” is a loosely-knit group of people from various communities on the net who band together equally loosely when they feel somebody is violating good manners on the net. Therefore, Anonymous is both a proper noun (the group) and the traditional adjective. A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is an attack that resembles when thousands of people call a company’s switchboard at the same time, overwhelming it with calls so that no ordinary customers can get through, only it’s directed at web servers and not at company switchboards. One of today’s tools for doing DDoS attacks is the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, which is a piece of software and not an actual particle accelerator in outer space.

Anyway, things are not black and white. I would like to mention that I hold Anonymous in the highest regard for most of its endeavors, in particular outing the shady practices of Scientology. One comment on yesterday’s post was very upset that I “compared internet trolls DDoSing a couple websites to racist murderers”. To clarify, I wasn’t saying they were comparable, but I do argue that the social dynamics are comparable. There are obviously strong differences in culture and context. Racism was not only accepted in the US of the 1920s, but the norm, and the Klan strove to uphold that norm, just as the norm today on the net is hostile to dominant corporations quashing freedom of speech. Yes, bullying for racist reasons today will give you jail, and rightly so, but times change. Every social dynamic must be seen in the light of its own time and context, or we will be unable to learn from history.

That said, the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC, pictured) — the weapon of choice for AnonOps, the fuzzy cloud of anonymous Anonymous operatives — is interesting to look at. Not so much from a technical perspective, a LOIC DDoS is as clumsy a weapon as a wooden club: it does knock your opponent unconscious for a while but has no trace of finesse. Besides, because of its inability to attack multiple targets, it is primarily a terror weapon: “do as we say or you will be next”. In this regard, the modus operandi of Anonymous Ops are identical to that of the National Rifle Association, who picks one – just one – gun-rights-hostile politician every election year and goes on to spend their entire budget smearing that particular politician in ads everywhere. That politician’s election chances will be slightly less than a snowball’s in hell, and nobody wants to be the NSA’s next target. It can be a very effective way of influencing society’s values.

Finally getting to the point, here. Social dynamics of the LOIC.

When you install LOIC on your computer, you become a soldier in an ongoing war. It may sound pretentious, but LOIC is used to attack infrastructure of a percieved enemy, which makes it an act of war. Thus, installing LOIC is an army recruitment procedure.

This is not unknown or a surprise to people who install LOIC. Attacking stuff is its very purpose. They know that they will be taking an active part in hostilities. Active. Hostilities. By all definitions, they are signing up for an army, looking forward to “go blow shit up”, as a new recruit for a government-sponsored army once motivated his own sign-up.

But there is something more at work here. The social dynamics I want to examine are: why do people sign up for an army? Why do they sign up for this particular one, and how does that compare to other armies?

It is clear that they know that they will go to war when they sign up here. That makes this recruitment stand out from most others, where most soldiers hope they won’t have to. The LOIC installers, however, will cause harm. That is the whole point of installing the LOIC.

More interestingly, they are signing up for a cause. I believe a significant portion of this… army… want to cause harm to unjust targets, even though the targets are selected by somebody else. (Some portion will have signed up just for the hell of it, others for plain laughs. There’s no single reason that applies to everyone.)

This differs starkly from governmental army recruitment. The recruitment motto of the US Army is “be all you can be”; the equivalent for the Swedish army is “do you have what it takes?”. These militaries focus on the benefit of the individual when recruiting. “The collective will add all this to your life.” As for causes, well, that’s for some general to decide.

Anonymous Operations differs in that people are signing up for a cause, at a small but noticable risk and loss to the individual. “You will give this to the collective, because you want to.” This has a lot more in common with guerilla warfare than traditional armies, in particular with guerillas that are politically motivated or where they are defending kinsfolk in occupied territory.

As such, it is a much more effective recruitment, not only in terms of growing the army, but particularly for keeping your soldiers performing.

“A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. […] Falkvinges beskrivning av NRA sätt att stoppa alla kandidater i valet som vill göra det svårare att sprida vapen i USA fick mig att tånka. I stället för att satsa pengar på att stoppa alla anti-vapen kanidater så […]

  2. Scary Devil Monastery

    Best description of “Anonymous” I’ve read so far. I’ll be linking to this page in a few posts, methinks.

    Good job, Rick.

  3. patrik

    Very well described, as always. Keep up the good work!

  4. Bucky

    Joining the LOIC team is sort of like joining the Borg. You get this chunk of destructive tech installed, that you cannot actually control yourself in any meaningful way.
    One DDoS attacker is a guy shining a laser pointer at a target. Not very impressive. Add 5000 more aiming at the same target and it might catch fire. LOIC gives you the choice of being that lone guy with the laser pointer or being part of the collective and let someone else point your weapon in a certain direction and wreak havoc.

    The Borg analogy has another plus: It gives you a clear conscience. Yes, you signed up for the fight but after that you did _nothing_. Someone else did all the actual shooting and legwork. Like sending a hundred bucks to Amnesty or some other worthy cause, you just donate time and computer power to help someone elses agenda.
    Personally I chose not to do it, because attacking infrastructure feels counterproductive. Giving a helping hand to someone who aims to kick scumbags in the nuts, however, is something I would have no problems with. I just disagree with this particular method.

    As a final note, I’d like to point out that I do not see the Borg (the original guys) as bad people. They are basically misunderstood. The classic Borg were aiming for interstellar peace. Unfortunately their chosen method was to stomp everything flat and take over all resources, but these days that could be called “foreign policy” by a couple of countries. Business as usual.

  5. anon

    Anonymous reign supreme!

    Vi är Anonyma, Vi är Legion, Vi förlåter inte. Vi glömmer inte. vänta oss.

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