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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Going Underground: the secret world of the Deep Web

We can only see 10% of the internet, the rest is invisible “Deep Web”. Is this really full of drug dealers, pornography and hitmen?


What is “Deep Web”?

Let’s face it; the internet is vast. Type a phrase into Google (other search engines are available) – it tells you how many results link to that phrase. Even searching your own name can find tens of thousands of results (try it!)

However, what many people don’t know is that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.

Only around 10% of the internet is “indexed”, which means search engines like Google and Bing can find it.

The other 90% of “hidden” content is the Deep Web.

The deep web has received a lot of negative press recently. Various articles focus on how it is full of dodgy illegal sites selling drugs, passports and weapons. As we’ll see, this isn’t providing the full story.


How does Deep Web work?

Deep Web: a laptop screen, password typed in

Password protected; most pages accessed via a password are part of the deep web

When we google something we’re actually searching an index. Think: a massive library of different web pages.

Stuff like your email inbox, online banking and website databases can’t be indexed. Anything which you go through a login page to access.

Deep web is more difficult to index as information is stored on databases, not specific web pages. Put simply: it’s hidden. With us so far?

So if most of the deep web is just harmless private material, why all the bad press? It’s all to do with people using it to become anonymous. It’s time to go underground;

Now you see me, now you don’t

Deep Web: a tracker puts her nose to the ground and sniffs

Using normal servers means your online activity can be tracked

When you visit a website using a regular browser you access the website data direct from that webpage.

This is quick, but your location and information you download is logged.

Meaning people (the government) can track where you are and what you look at. Creepy or what?

In the 1990s the US government developed a programme for anonymous file sharing.

They called it “Tor”, short for “The Onion Router” (we’ll explain the name, we promise).


This is how Tor accesses the deep web;

Scene from Goldeneye where Natalia tries to access deep web to reach Boris

Tor bounces your request from country to country; making it hard to trace

First you make a request to find a web page. The request to find the intended destination is wrapped in layers of encryption or code – like the skin of an onion. Onion layers, onion router – those computer guys sure had some wordplay skills.

Instead of going direct to the web page your request is bounced randomly across a network relay of computers all across the globe.

As your request arrives at a new location a level of encryption is unlocked. All the relay computer sees are instructions to send the request on to the next location.

In real world language; bouncing across different locations makes it near impossible to trace the user. Meaning you become anonymous. There’s even a version for smartphones. Ooooh, exciting.

Yes, using deep web to surf the web anonymously is legal. However, if you use it for illegal activity… well, go figure.

Is Deep Web the same as “Dark Web”?

Yes, and no. There’s a lot of confusion as “deep” and “dark” sound pretty similar, and lots of people use the terms interchangeably.


Screen shot of Deep Web site Silk road selling drugs, weapons and porn

Silk Road: the Amazon of the deep web.

The dark web is actually a section of the deep web. Dark web is used to describe a specific group of websites which use Tor encryption to hide their location.

Whilst dark web is part of the deep web, it is very different. Simples.

The most famous dark web site was Silk Road, described by the press as “Amazon for criminals”.

It was an anonymous online marketplace selling anything from illegal drugs to plastic explosive.

There’s even been reports of hitmen offering their services on the deep web. Mostly drugs though… or so we hear.

Deep Web: a gif of a cat in a pirate suit

If the deep web isn’t all drugs and porn… does this mean it’s all cat pictures?

Before it was closed by the authorities Silk Road users paid for their goods using an online currency called BitCoin. Rumoured to be the “next big thing” in the currency world, BitCoin also offers some anonymity if you’re clever with computers.

Is the majority of the web filled with pornography, hitmen and drugs? Not really. It’s been estimated that the dark web makes up only 0.01% of the internet.

So although 90% of the internet is deep web, only a tiny fraction of this is naughty sites like Silk Road.

Why all the fuss over people being anonymous?

With stories about spy agencies intercepting images from people’s webcams it’s no surprise that some of us want a little more privacy. Going anonymous can give us that.

Deep Web: activitists in guy fawkes masks protest against internet censorship

Activists use the deep web to spread their message

Despite creating Tor the US government now wants it shut down to stop criminals trading anonymously on the deep web. Oh, the irony.

Yet the dark web isn’t just used by criminals.

Activists and journalists working in China and other countries with strict censorship laws use Tor and deep web to spread their message.

Even Facebook got in on the act. It created a dark web version of the site for those living in countries like Syria and China which ban Facebook.

The website Wikileaks was set up by activist Julian Assange to expose government and corporate misconduct. It used deep web encryption so that whistleblowers could anonymously supply evidence.

The problem: though some see whistleblowers and activists as freedom fighters, others see them as lawbreakers.

Seems like this argument will continue going round in circles.


Deep Web learnings; the internet is not just for porn.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal Explained

Iran (a Middle East country bordering Iraq and Afghanistan) just struck a deal with the USA and other countries over its use of nuclear power.


How did this all start?

In 2002 it was made public that Iran was working towards creating nuclear power. And that they’d tried to keep it a secret. Naughty Iran.

Nuclear power ditches fossil fuels and uses Uranium to create an energy that produces less greenhouse gases. It’s purpose? Less pollution.


So why all the drama?

Iran Nuclear Deal - A mushroom cloud nuclear explosion


Messing about with Uranium is properly dangerous. If exposed to large amounts you can suffer rashes, kidney failure and the cells in your body  begin to prematurely die.

The most famous nuclear disaster was 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine. A nuclear reactor failed, spilling radioactive material into the environment. The estimate for deaths brought on by the catastrophe is disputed: ranging from 4,000 to half a million.

There’s also no way to dispose of nuclear waste.

And then there’s the security side of things… Uranium can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

Watch-dog organisation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doesn’t fully trust that Iran’s nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and isn’t just a front to create nuclear weapons.

World powers have been attempting to dissuade Iran away from nuclear power with a series of sanctions including the European Union banning importation of oil from Iran. The EU used to import 20% of Iran’s oil so this was a big step.

Whether it’s right for Iran to have nuclear power is not for us to say – but this debate has created massive tension for years.


Who was involved in the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Waiting for the Iran Nuclear Deal

Waiting for a sign.

Over several sessions Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met representatives from the governments of the United States of America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

This group is known as P5 + 1Don’t ask us why. They also go by E3/EU+3 Again, this means nothing to us.

For over 18 months the discussions attempted to come up with a solution. In April the group were delayed in reaching an agreement.

A draft of the Iran Nuclear deal was agreed, but there were issues still to be resolved – such as what research into nuclear power Iran would be allowed to undertake and what they would get in return for cutting down their nuclear ambitions.

Finally after several delays a final deal has been agreed. Iran will cut back on its nuclear programme in return for economic restrictions being lifted by other countries. Better late than never, guys.


What’s in the deal?

Iran Nuclear Deal Agreed; Batman vs Superman shake hands


Iran will give up most of its Centrifuges; equipment to make nuclear fuel. They currently have around 20,000 and this will drop to 6,000. Centrifuges can also be used to create a nuclear bomb so cutting down on the numbers makes it harder for Iran to build a nuke.

Uranium will only be enriched to 3.67% – powerful enough for fuel, but not for a nuclear bomb.

Iran will also give up nearly 97% of its nuclear material. This means it would take them much longer to make a nuclear bomb. So if they break the rules it’s more likely they’ll get caught. They get to keep their two battle-protected Nuclear bases but only one will be used to create fuel; the other will become a research facility.

Economic sanctions from the other countries will begin to lift at the end of the year; so long as Iran shows commitment to the deal by autumn. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gets to check nuclear sites, especially those which look dodgy. But with some sites Iran will “manage” the visit – so investigators can’t just turn up unexpectedly.

This historic deal could succeed in stopping Iran from building nuclear bombs. If so it will be remembered as a turning point in history. The leaders of the countries involved all made proud announcements when the deal was signed. The USA especially is keen to emphasise their role in the proceedings. The Iran Nuclear Deal means that some of the politics in the Middle East might start to transform. Iran’s economy, which has been suffering due to the sanctions, could be on the rise, and it has been suggested that they might be able to support the fights against ISIS.


Don’t cheat on the Iran Nuclear Deal;

Iran Nuclear Deal; cat gets trapped

Break the rules and the sanctions will fall back into place real quick

Those sanctions can be put back in place real quick. If member of the P5 + 1 thinks Iran has broken the deal they can list this complaint to a panel of eight countries (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran and the EU) who have 35 days to sort out the issue between themselves.

But if any member disagrees with the ruling of the panel they can send the complaint to the United Nations Security Council. Ooooh.

The UN then has 30 days to decide that sanctions should not be brought back in. They all have to be agreed, otherwise the sanctions automatically “snap back” into existence.

Fool-proof, right?


So that’s it? The world is saved?

Not so fast, hot-shot. The deal still had to be checked and approved by the United States Congress. Things look good though.

Everyone thought the United States House of Representatives (their version of the House of Commons) was where this deal would stop dead.

The Republican party (supported by some congressmen from the Democrat party) put forward a resolution to block the deal. This resolution was blocked, and the deal is likely to pass.

If the House of Representatives had voted to block the deal, then President Obama had the option to veto their decision. This means he would use his presidential power to push the deal through anyway. Obama threatened to veto the resolution even if it made him unpopular. Maybe as he’s leaving next year he doesn’t care what people think, and wanted to score a win for the history books.

If Obama had vetoed the resolution, the deal would pass through to the United States Senate (the US upper house; their version of the House of Lords). Two thirds of the Senate would have to vote against the President’s veto to override it.

In the end Obama didn’t have to use his veto power, as the Democrats rejected the resolution to block the Nuclear Deal. Obama also had enough Senators on his side to protect the deal in Senate. Phew.

The finer details of the deal are now being discussed, but the BBC reports that Obama will be able to lift sanctions on Iran starting next week. Consider that history made.

Explore: how the USA Presidential System works


Iran Nuclear Deal; pretty important for everyone involved.

Having passed it’s biggest test in United States Congress, things look promising for the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Israel isn’t happy about the deal though. They don’t get on with Iran (partly due to who owns land in the middle east) and their Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been slating the deal, stating that the deal is too easy on Iran.

The full text for the Iran Nuclear Deal can be read on the Russian government’s website, according to Buzzfeed.


Is the Iran Nuclear Deal enough to keep Iran on the straight and narrow? Should Iran be allowed any nuclear power at all?

For more on the Iran Nuclear Deal subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason


You’ve all met Cecil

Hunting - image of Cecil the Lion at the Hwange National Park

Cecil the Lion; recognisable due to the dark streak in his mane

Now a bit of a celebrity among conservationists and animal lovers. Cecil was part of a study being run by Oxford University; which meant he was being monitored and wearing a tracking collar.

In July 2015 Cecil was lured out of his home in the Hwange National Park and shot with a bow and arrow. The culprit; an American dentist called Walter Palmer. Bad move, Walter.

The internet went mad. Many people called for Palmer’s arrest and the Zimbabwe government is trying to extradite him from the USA to face charges. Oh, and this happened;


When is hunting legal?

Ernest Hemingway with the dead corpse of a lion

Hunting is legal in many countries

Hunting lions in Zimbabwe is not actually illegal. In fact, they aren’t even a protected species. But hunters must have a permit issued by the government in order to hunt.

Reuters reports that the killing of Cecil was illegal because the land owner did not have a permit to hunt a lion. Palmer claims he thought the hunt was legal – and that he’d left the organising of permits to his guides. Palmer had paid £32,000 to go on a hunt. With that kind of money, you’d expect everything to be above board.

Poaching = illegal hunting

If you hear someone talking about poaching; they’re not talking eggs. Poaching is the term for hunting without the permission of whoever owns the land. Elephants are often targeted by poachers as their ivory tusks are very expensive.

So, if Palmer illegally killed Cecil the lion does that make him a poacher? Either way, he’s in big trouble.


Should we really blame hunters?

Delta Airlines Aeroplane - Hunting Cecil the Lion

Delta Airlines now ban the transportation of “trophies”

After all, Walter Palmer believed he was playing by the rules. If he’s telling the truth, then he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. The people responsible are the governments which allow legal hunting, and also companies which make it easy for hunters to transport their prize home.

Campaign group Sum Of Us is pushing for airlines to ban the transportation of dead animals which belong to endangered species.

Their argument is simple – Hunters usually take the head, or even the whole body of their kill home as a prize. If the hunters can’t transport their prey home, then they will have less motivation to kill.


Join the Sum of Us campaign to ban the transport of endangered species

The campaign recently scored a win when airline company Delta, who announced they would ban transportation of lions along with other endangered species. This follows Emirates, United and American Airlines who made a similar announcement earlier this year. Yes most commercial airlines are involved. 


Can hunting actually help endangered species?

Image of a White Rhino, nearly extinct due to over-hunting

Did hunting save the White Rhino?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe warns that the African Lion could be extinct by 2050. It’s estimated there are only 20,000-32,000 African lions in existence – about 50% less than there were three decades ago. So why do some countries allow hunting?

When the White Rhino was nearly extinct at the start of the 20th century, landowners were encouraged to protect and breed them – then release them back into the wild. The landowners would then make money charging hunters for hunting permits. In this instance, it did help to boost the numbers of Rhinos… but at the end of the day, the animals were being bred to be killed.

Some also argue the money paid by big game hunters can be used to further help conservation. Animals will die eventually so why not let an older creature be killed – using the money to stop illegal poachers? The government can also regulate the amount of permits given out – controlling the number of animals which are killed.

Safari in Kenya

Would banning hunting lead to less tourism?

But does the money actually end up going towards stopping poachers? Countries like Namibia are good at showing where the money is used, others such as Zimbabwe are less transparent.

10% of Zimbabwe’s income is due to tourism. Without hunting, would this amount drop? Hunting permits are also sold for animals which aren’t endangered (think; zebras), meaning that in some cases the country selling the permit is getting money without losing a protected animal.

Win-win, right? Perhaps not, as either way animals end up being killed for sport.


The government has a choice; charge money for hunting permits, train rangers to catch poachers and use the money to protect the rest of the species. Or they can ban all hunting, which won’t really stop the poachers from trying.

It’s not all about money though. Every animal is part of the food chain – and removing animals for sport disrupts the chain – and this affects all the other animals. Killing Cecil the lion might mean that other endangered species might live a little longer (as Cecil is no longer around to eat them). However a recent study in Science Magazine shows how removing one link from the chain could cause big problems down the line. The loss of lions and other predators in an area could lead to a rise in the numbers of baboons. Baboons are known to spread into areas occupied by humans… bringing nasty parasites with them. So you see how it all connects?


How can we stop poaching?

Drones are being used to stop hunting by poachers

Drones may be the key to stopping poachers

Of course, not everyone agrees with the arguments above. So, apart from staying on the look out for poachers, are there other methods of stopping illegal hunting?

New technology might be the answer. Several park rangers are experimenting with drones. They are used to spot poachers –and so far it seems to work. Other research is looking into the patterns of where poaching occurs. Scientists will attempt to predict where the next incidents are likely to take place. Who said science is boring, huh?

Other conservationists are staining the tusks of Rhinos and Elephants. The dye is harmless to the animal, but makes humans become sick. This means the tusks are useless for medicine (what they are usually used for) and the number of hunted animals is decreasing.

Countries like Kenya and South Africa are taking the military option. However the risk of being caught doesn’t seem to stop poachers. When the number of rangers patrols increased, so did the number poachers. The poachers also started to bring AK-47s to protect themselves – and aren’t afraid to use them. Maybe it’s time for a new plan?


Hunting Explained? If we want hunting to stop, maybe we should question the governments who make it legal, rather than attacking a dentist who thought he was obeying the rules.

When is a Hate Crime not a Hate Crime? When it’s a Terrorist Act…

OK, what’s a Hate Crime?

The organisation Stop Hate UK defines a “Hate Crime” as a crime “motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of a person’s identity”

These aspects can include; Race, Disability, Faith, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. Why can’t people just learn to get along?

So, can a racist attack be a Hate Crime?

The difference between Racism and a Hate Crime. A black woman holds up a sign saying "Racism"

Doesn’t matter if it’s Racism or a Hate Crime. Just don’t.

For an act to be classed as a Hate Crime it has to break criminal law.

So if a physical attack is made because of a person’s skin colour, yes, it is a hate crime because the law has been broken.

However if a racist comment is made, it may be categorized as a Hate Incident.

If the police decide no law has been broken then it’s defined as an incident not a crime, but still motivated by hate.

Even though no laws are broken, you’ll still get in trouble. If reported to police they would still record this as a Non Crime Incident. Sorry, there’s no escape for being a racist.

What’s the difference between a Hate Crime and a Terrorist Attack?

The difference between a Hate Crime and Terrorism

Quite a big difference, actually.

Terrorism; the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Terrorism causes harm to life, buildings and infrastructure, resulting in fear within communities. If acts of terror specifically target a certain group within recognised hate crime strands (Disability, Faith, Gender Identity, Race or Sexual Orientation) then you could define these as Hate Crimes.

In an interview with KCUR.org Professor Steve Dilks from the University of Missouri-Kansas City states; that Terrorist attacks are often planned attacks to draw attention to a political cause, rather than a spontaneous attack for personal reasons. Terrorist attacks are often part of a larger plan.

Even when Hate Crimes are committed by a group, the aim is usually to send a message to people of a certain race, sexuality or gender, not make a specific political point.

For example;

In 1999 bombings in Soho, London; targeted the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community (LGBT). Because the attacks targeted the LGBT community and ethnic minorities specifically this could be classed as a Hate Crime.

However the bomb set off by the rebel group the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre in 1996, was an Act of Terrorism. This is because it wasn’t aimed at a specific group of people; it was designed to scare and injure as many people as possible, and to make a political statement.

The Small Print: the definition of a Hate Crime is based on perception. Any incident or crime could be reported as being hate motivated by the victim or any other person. Some might argue the IRA attack could be interpreted as a Hate Crime against all British people.

So, can a terrorist attack be a hate crime? Potentially, though usually the motivations behind the attack make it one or the other. Basically, neither is very nice.

Why are we talking about this?

Hate Crime

Does the media report some Hate Crimes differently?

Yesterday in South Carolina, America; a white man opened fire on an African-American church, leaving nine people dead. The church’s pastor Senator Clementa Pinckney is among the dead.

At the moment very few details are known. The police have arrested a suspect, Dylann Roof and are investigating the incident as a Hate Crime.

On social media some people are already commenting on how the media is reporting this incident. Many people think that because the shooter was white, the media will report differently than they would if he was of another ethnic group.

What are people saying?

South Carolina, Hate Crime, Reaction on Twitter


What we learned; Haters gonna hate, we hate all crime, but it has to break the law to be classed as a Hate Crime.

Does the media report Hate Crimes differently if a white person is involved? Is doing that actually a Hate Crime itself?

Don’t be hatin’

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