Who are Anonymous: freedom fighters or criminals?

A mysterious group called Anonymous is staging protests and publicity stunts. Who are they and what do they want?


Who are Anonymous?

The logo of hacker activists

The Anonymous logo

To understand Anonymous you only need three words:

Activists, Hackers and Guy Fawkes.

It’s a good thing Scenes of Reason has handy guides on all three. You’re totally welcome. 😉

Anonymous is a global network of activists and hackers. It has members in countries all around the world.

Members are known as “Anons” and hide their identity by wearing Guy Fawkes masks, similar to those worn in the film “V for Vendetta”.


We’ll let them explain further in their own words:



What do they do?

Anonymous first started out on the image website 4chan. Visitors to the site show up as “Anonymous” hence the name.

Anonymous protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks out side the church of Scientology

Anonymous outside the Church of Scientology

4chan users raided and hacked websites including several attacks on social networking site Habbo Hotel. These led to the first media reports on the group.

A common Anonymous tactic is a “denial of service” attack. This crashes a website by sending LOTS of internet traffic its way. Death by spam, basically.

Soon the group started pranks and “operations” in the real world. Anonymous first wore Guy Fawkes masks to protect their identity whilst protesting against  the Church of Scientology.

The church had tried to remove a video about Scientology by serving a legal copyright notice. Anonymous saw this as trying to censor the internet.

The motto commonly associated with Anonymous is: “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”


What do they believe in?

Anonymous isn’t your regular activist group, compared to a flock of birds;

“How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.”

Poster for anonymous campaign Operation Payback

Anonymous campaign poster

According to the group there is a loose command structure in place. However, as there is no official leadership it makes it very hard to link actions to the “group”. Journalist Quinn Norton writes;

“Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization.”

It’s even harder to work out what their motives are, or what they want.

Anonymous has been associated with liberal or anti-establishment causes. For anti-establishment think: against the established authority and opposing conventional society.

Many Anonymous videos talk about giving the power back to the people. Anonymous has assisted pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and have taken on big corporations like PayPal.

However for many, taking part in raids would seem to be purely for Lulz. Lulz – plural of Lol (laugh out loud), now used to describe funny internet content.



Anonymous at the Million Mask March on the London underground

Going underground

Quinn Norton notes that you’re never sure if they are the hero or anti-hero. Parmy Olson wrote a book on Anonymous and mentions that they have done a lot of bad things.

“Unnecessarily harassing people — I would class that as a bad thing. DDOSing [attacking] the CIA website, stealing customer data and posting it online just for shits and giggles is not a good thing.”

If Anonymous wants power for the people how does exposing their private details help? Seems like someone went off message.

Having no clear ideology makes it difficult for Anons to decide what they stand for, and what activity is off-limits.

Disagreements within the group are regular. Like when a small group threatened to take down Facebook, only to be disavowed by the majority of Anonymous. Bit embarrassing.


Are Anonymous freedom fighters or criminals?

Anonymous leader Hector Monsegur, unmasked by the FBI

Anonymous unmasked; leader Hector Monsegur

Though they may hack websites for the banter, when you take down the US Department of Justice’s page you risk the wrath of the security services.

So far dozens from many countries (including the UK and US)  have been arrested for taking part in Anonymous hacks. A 19-year-old called Dmitriy Guzner was sent to jail for a year for hacking.

Hector Monsegur, one of the main leaders of the group was identified by the FBI in 2011. Monsegur then spied on Anonymous for the FBI, leading to more arrests.

Anonymous’s attacks on child pornography websites on the Dark Web have been praised by some. However others say that taking vigilante action may compromise existing police investigations.

Don’t think this is just about crashing websites though. Anonymous actually caused the resignation of Aaron Barr, CEO of company HBGary. Emails they had hacked into revealed some dodgy corporate behaviour.

Anonymous also organises the Million Mask March, an annual event where Anons descend on London. In recent years this has also expanded to other cities. Violence has previously broken out at these marches with protesters fighting against police officers.

It could be argued that being a freedom fighter requires breaking the law in order to overcome the current system. But is violence ever justified?

Anonymous has just as many enemies as supporters. However Anonymous is here to stay, at least for now. After all, how do you shut down a global operation which has no known base?


Anonymous Unmasked; the most elusive activist group in the world

Is this new activist group what’s needed to take on corruption and bring power back to the people? Or is just a network of bored troublemakers? What’s your take on Anonymous?

Do say: “Anonymous is an interesting example of how lack of structure in an organisation makes it hard to shut down”

Don’t say: “I bet they couldn’t hack me”

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Is Cyberbullying harmless banter or serious crime?

If you post a negative comment about someone online is that just harmless banter, or cyberbullying? What about freedom of speech?


What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbulling = a wave of fire hits a computer user

Cyberbulling; a barrage of online insults

Cyberbullying (AKA Trolling) is bombarding someone online with insults and threats.

The rise of social media and online chatrooms has made it a lot easier for people to engage in cyberbullying. It’s a lot easier to say something nasty online, rather than to someone’s face. Victims of trolling can be celebrities but can also be ordinary people.

Cyberbullying can be as simple as leaving a hateful comment on someone’s profile, all the way up to posting naked pictures of someone online, or threatening them.

Though trolling is now part of  popular culture, referenced in films like Chatroom and Unfriended, this issue is more serious than it first seems.


Why are we talking about trolling?

Apps like Tripadvisor, where you can rate restaurants and hotels, are often hijacked by trolls. In some cases the trolls haven’t even visited the restaurant they are slamming.

As soon as a high-profile news story breaks, you can bet that people online will be expressing their views pretty vocally. There’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, but often people go a step too far. Charlotte Proudman, the barrister who called out sexism online received a barrage of death threats and menacing messages.

Twitter response to the Peeple app, people make comments comparing it to cyberbullying and trolling

Is #peeple just a new app for cyberbullying?

As with regular bullying, what can seem to the bully as harmless banter can be experienced by the victim as cyberbullying.

Defining cyberbullying is a question of proportion. Posting a single joke, or negative comment could be seen as harmless, but if this happens regularly then it could be seen as trolling.

However, even a single comment can be damaging, especially if you haven’t asked for feedback. That’s why everyone is getting vocal about a new app called Peeple. This app allows you to rate and review people you know, just like Tripadvisor.

People are irked because there is no way to opt out from being rated. The Telegraph describes how you can rate other people even if they don’t have the app, by simply entering their mobile number. To remove the review they have to sign up to the app themselves.

Positive responses to the Peeple app, accused of being a cyberbullying app

Divisive; Peeple has some supporters

Peeple CEO Julia Cordray said “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically”.

Ratings and reviews are not anonymous, something which the developers hope will prevent trolling and increase the amount of positive reviews. If someone calls you out with a negative review you get a 48 hour window to sort things with them before the comment is posted online.

It could be argued that Peeple users should be allowed to air their views. You know, freedom of speech and all that. Despite this people are still worried this is basically a trolling app; whereas some others are going to give Peeple a chance.

Cordray acknowledges that “there seems to be some fear and I have a lot of empathy for that… But I’m going to lead by example and show that this app is actually more positive than it ever could be negative.”

Which is fair enough, but as Cordray also says that we “deserve to see where you could improve” perhaps the negative comments about aspects of the Peeple app should be used to improve it?

Some are calling for Peeple to be banned by the app store –  others think governments can do much more to stop trolling ruining lives.

Have your say:

Is Peeple a good or bad thing? Let us know;


Should we take a tougher stance on trolling?

The number of cyberbullying victims in the UK is on the rise. A man called Sean Duffy was jailed in 2011 for posting insulting and insensitive messages about people who had died. In 2013 a teenage girl committed suicide after being bullied online.

A victim of cyberbullying with her head in her hands

Cyberbullying is on the rise in the UK

Yet for now there is no specific law against cyberbullying.

We have three different laws; the Malicious Communications Act, the Communications Act and the Protection from Harassment Act. Overkill much?

Messages which show intent to cause physical harm or violence, harassment or stalking will get you into trouble. But the Crown Prosecution Service (the guys who take you to court) is quite strict about who gets served.

Children who are unlikely to know the damage their comments may cause are unlikely to be prosecuted.

The UK government has just released a new anti-trolling website to help victims of cyberbullying. Should we go further, following New Zealand in making cyberbullying illegal?

New Zealand’s anti-trolling law was voted this year. It focuses on hate speech – so racism, sexism, homophobia are all no-goes. Trolls using offensive language or bullying people could end up with a fine or even jail time.

Despite most New Zealand MPs voting in favour of the new law many people worry it will limit freedom of speech. They say people offended by jokes, satirical articles or opinion pieces could use the law to attempt to get them removed.

Trolling is becoming a real problem, but is restricting people’s comments online prohibiting freedom of speech?


Cyberbullying Decoded: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.

Should the UK create a specific cyberbullying law? Are apps like Peeple just a harmless bit of tech, or something more sinister?

If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, Childline offers support and has guidance pages about what to do.


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