Professor Lora Winslow
Understanding Human Communication 203
3 November 2012
Anonymous: Why the “Lulz Boat” is Sinking
Anonymous is a collective group of semi-organized hackers that rally together at times against persons, businesses, or government agencies. Operating under a banner of anti-censorship, social freedom and claiming to be squarely against those whom they label as oppressors, the group Anonymous relies on various network attacks and public leaks of information designed to disrupt the computer infrastructure and personal lives of their targets. Anonymous is just as their name claims, impersonal and anonymous, with individuals identifying themselves with the so-called “collective” operating under no banner of leadership or cohesion. Anonymous claims that this lack of centralized direction is their greatest strength, that in their anonymity they are able to operate as a group and continue to do so when one or more of their numbers fall. However, this strength is the source of their weakness.
For several years, I have watched the Information Security Community, alternately known as InfoSec or IT Security, and in particular one collective group of hackers, also known as AntiSec, who refer to themselves as Anonymous. Anonymous first came to my attention shortly after the release of classified U.S. Government documents by the website WikiLeaks. The response from the United States Government was immediate, but it was one so called patriotic “Grey Hat” hacker who calls himself Th3J35t3r (The Jester) who began a coordinated attack known as a DDOS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack, which effectively brought WikiLeaks to its knees. Because of this attack, Anonymous responded and began targeting not only Jester, but also businesses, government agencies and private individuals it felt was associated with the crackdown against WikiLeaks and its owner. Givens 2
In her book Understanding Human Communication, author Julia T. Wood defines a group as “three or more people who interact over time and depend on one another, as well as following certain shared rules of conduct in order to reach common goals,” (230). Anonymous certainly fits this description; although the exact number of members is unclear, they do regularly interact over social mediums such as Twitter and certain older Internet Chat platforms. The group can sometimes rally themselves to commit to something they consider meaningful, and even offer aid to another in the form of donations for legal aid, advice on particular techniques to avoid detection or accomplish a task, and offers mutual emotional support. Certainly many of the features that are common to group exist within Anonymous, but the most important is lacking: Leadership.
Leadership is necessary within any group, to not only provide direction but to control, as Woods puts it, “disruptive members who engage in egocentric communication” (245), or in common parlance try to put the “I” in “Team”. It is not the case that the reins of leadership fall to the hands of one person, but may collectively to a group of senior members working to guide the group towards a desired goal. Whether by example or by effort of organization, a leader or leaders help define the cultural identity of any group to which they belong. Because Anonymous eschews authority of any form the group fails at its most basic level, therefore the group breaks down into smaller groups and fractures off in directions, which sometimes have undesirable outcomes.
One such example of this fracturing is the incident involving an Anonymous splinter organization, known as LulzSec. LulzSec members started out as members of Anonymous, and then split from the larger group to form their own, although they still maintained identity with the former. Rather than pursue ideals however, LulzSec began a criminal enterprise of stealing information and selling it online, and was even responsible for a security