In preparation for an upcoming workshop on “organization as communication“, I have engaged more deeply with the phenomenon of Anonymous (see also “Anonymous Attacks German Collecting Society GEMA“). Specifically, I am interested in questions such as how to theoretically grasp this online “collective” and how its organizational identity and boundaries are created and (re-)produced.

In this regard, those incidents are of particular interest, where the attribution to Anonymous is contested. In August 2011, for example, a group claiming to be part of the hacktivist collective declared a “war on facebook”, which was soon countered by another Anonymous activist via twitter, stating that “#OpFacebook is being organised by some Anons. This does not necessarily mean that all of #Anonymous agrees with it.” (see Washington Post). In November 2011, when the takedown of facebook was supposed to happen, activists of Anonymous even exposed the originator of the threat to demonstrate that “#OpFacebook” was in fact not supported by Anonymous, as cnet reported:

“One skiddy queer chap named Anthony [last name redacted] from the US in Ohio decided to take it upon himself to have some lulz with creating an imaginary opfacebook and pawning it off as a legit anon op,” the statement said. “Despite us telling this mate several times we did not support his op, he continued to push his agenda for lulz. This op is phony but he continues to say it’s an anon op.”

In other words: Anonymous decided to expel wannabe activists by lifting the veil of anonymity and exposing their identity to the public. In a way, expelling by exposing is the logical boundary practice of an organized informality under the lablel “Anonymous.”

However, as Anonymous grows in terms of activities and supporters, this form of boundary mangement might not be enough any more. The Figure below depicts the cumulated number of activities ascribed to Anonymous from 2006 to 2012. With the overall level of activity rising, so does the number of contested or unclear events.

Timeline of Anonymous Activities (cumulated; based on English and German Wikipedia)

Of course, Anonymous is an extreme case. But exactly because of its distinctiveness I think there is a lot to learn about organizing practices in general. I will blog more about the case after the workshop next week.