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.

 

Anti-hero?

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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The HSBC rebrand is like Coca Cola changing its name to 7UP

HSBC Rebrand = Hide Scandals, Become Credible? The bank may be about to stage a massive disappearing act.

 

What’s the story?

HSBC Rebrand; Jack Black leans on a counter "Buh Bye"

HSBC HQ may leave the UK

Big bank HSBC is getting rid of 50,000 staff members across the world; 8000 of these from the UK.

Instead of face to face contact, customers can look forward to more online banking and “self-service”. We’re hoping self-service means you can just help yourself to money whenever you like.

HSBC is also reviewing whether they should move their HQ out of the UK.  The bank’s UK branches are going to be re-branded under a different name. Ooh, fancy.

 

 

Don’t bankers like the UK? Surely the weather makes it worth staying?

HSBC rebrand; rain on a window with a gloomy background

With weather like this why would you want to leave?

HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. It was founded in Hong Kong in the 1860s.  HSBC only moved across to Britain in the 1990s when they took over the UK’s Midland Bank.

Most of HSBC’s money comes from trading in Asia. At present they are losing money in the UK because of the Bank Levy. This taxes big banks on their profits and hit HSBC hard last year. They had to fork out £750 million to the tax office. Ouch.

So… it might make sense for HSBC to go home to Asia. But don’t panic HSBC customers; no decisions have been made yet.

HSBC decoded: If HSBC leave it will be a big blow for the government’s money-man; Chancellor George Osborne. He’s been struggling to keep banks and big businesses happy in the UK. Everyone worried about businesses leaving because of the EU referendum. If they do, it could damage the UK economy and mean fewer jobs and dollar for everyone. HSBC’s decision could be crucial.

 

What’s going on with UK branches of HSBC?

HSBC’s UK high street branches are to be “ring fenced”. This means people’s deposits and mortgages are separated from the bits of HSBC that trade on the financial markets. The idea is that by keeping them separate your money is safer. These rules were brought in after the financial crisis.

The HSBC rebrand means UK branches will launch under a different name. For the banking world this is like Coca Cola changing its name to something like Lilt or 7UP. It may be big news but the product being sold is still a fizzy drink. Change the name of a bank… and it’s still a bank.

 

So what’s the deal with the HSBC rebrand?

HSBC rebrand; A woman stands in front of a blackboard "I dont do taxes"

HSBC helped clients hide money from the taxman

The press has reported several scandals involving HSBC in the past few years.

The Guardian reported HSBC’s recent fine for money laundering charges. Money laundering takes money gained illegally (e.g. drug money, stolen cash) and makes it look as though it was obtained legally.

HSBC’s Swiss branch was supposedly also found to have helped people avoid paying tax by hiding their income from the tax man.

 

 

This doesn’t mean all bankers are crooks, but it definitely wasn’t good press for HSBC. Is the planned HSBC rebrand an opportunity to distance themselves from the bad vibes? Not according to them:

“We will operate with a different brand name… The reason for doing it is actually so that clients are aware whether they are dealing with the ring-fenced bank or the non-ring fenced bank. Obviously if both are called HSBC it’s a bit confusing… It’s more about clients being able to work out which one they are dealing with than it is about anything else.”  – HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, speaking at a HSBC investor update.

 

What we learned; no amount of rebranding can make corporate finance cool.

HSBC rebrand; what’s better saving money or job losses?

 

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