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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