‘The people with the masks’, that was how I knew this group. ‘A 13-year old kid that performs cyber attacks from his bedroom’, according to my roommate. But after watching the documentary We are Legion, I call this group ‘faceless people with a mission’. One just a bit wiser than the other. An organization that isn’t one. A group without a leader but with manny followers. What is Anonymous’ purpose?

In the video they published in 2003, the members of Anonymous say that Anonymous itself does not exist. That this group is nothing more that an idea or internet meme, freely usable for anyone. Any individual can adopt this identity of ‘the people with the masks’ and this way bring about change in the world, in order to improve humankind.

That people do massively adopt this identity to show their disapproval in certain cases became, for the first time, clear with Project Chanology in 2008. In this case, the anonymous people joined forces against the Scientology Church. This project began as an answer to Scientology’s attempt to remove an exclusive interview with Scientologist Tom Cruise of the internet. Anonymous saw this attempt as a form of internet censorship and started a virtual attack on the community through DDoS-attacks (getting a website offline through overcrowding), followed by among others fake phone calls to disturb the pursuits of Scientology.

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In We are Legion the makers show the viewers how the group that calls itself Anonymous originates. By using examples and interviews with participants, they display how a group of pranksters on an internet website united against something they disagreed with and in which they felt connected. What started off as anonymously making jokes to irritate something or someone, ended with mass hacking attacks on big leaders to changes dominant powers structures. It didn’t take long for the group anonymous people to realize how powerful they were when they worked together. By individually doing small attacks, they generally didn’t break a law. But doing this whit thousands of people at the same time, their impacts was massive.

However, not everyone agreed with the actions that were performed under the name Anonymous. This is something that is enlightened in We are Legion too. whether an action is legitimated under the name Anonymous, is to be decided by the rest of the online community. If a big part of the group joins in with the attack and sees it the moral necessity, the action will be continued. If this isn´t the case, there will be a counter-reaction and it will be clear this action wasn´t accepted under the name Anonymous. ‘Whoever is fighting monsters should see to it they don’t let themselves become one’ thus an anonymous about legitimizing Anonymous deeds.

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The thing I liked about this documentary was the combativeness of the people. Thanks to the anonymous character of the movement, you know for sure the people don’t act for the credit. It’s all about what will be achieved through these (cyber)actions and about how it will make a sleeping mass aware of the power structures in the world. Although there are probably countless actions that I disagree with, the documentary makers showed me in an accessible and interesting way who Anonymous is and why their actions are being undertaken under their name. It shows how an escalated joke has the power to bring about change in a social, political, or economic movement in the world. But only when many Anonymous put on their maks, a start can be made.

This article has been written for the Dutch magazineAntropologisch Tijdschrift Cul.

The documentairy We are Legion is availible both on Netflix and Youtube. There is also an interesting documentair about Scientology on Netflix: Going Clear.