In about two weeks I will attend the 63rd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association to present a paper on the organizational identity of the hacker collective “Anonymous” (see also “Anonymous’ Boundaries: Expelling by Exposing“), which I have written together with Dennis Schoeneborn. The key the empirical puzzle in this case is how the organizational identity of Anonymous is constructed given the fact that individual membership is largely invisible.
One of our findings is that Anonymous largely relies on the credibility of communication channels as a functional equivalent and substitute to member-based identity formation. Several Twitter accounts, Facebook pages or Tumblr blogs are controlled by members of Anonymous (“Anons”). Some of these accounts such as the YourAnonNews with over 1.1 million followers on Twitter or the OffiziellAnonymous Facebook page with over 1.2 million fans are able to reach large audiences.
The credibility of these communication channels depends on their respective communication history. Those accounts that have accurately announced – if not initiated – Anonymous activities gain credibility and thus the power to speak more or less on behalf of Anonymous.
The centrality of credible communication channels for the identity of Anonymous has recently been underscored by the first Anonymous crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The goal of the initiative: fund a new home for the communication channel YourAnonNews (YAN), which is currently hosted at Tumblr:
We will engineer a new website which will allow us to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the best independent reporters online. We’ll provide feeds for citizen journalists who livestream events as they are taking place, instead of the 10-second sound bites provided by the corporate media. Likewise, we know it would be beneficial to our followers to exist as a community beyond simple social media interactions. Many people have asked us to establish a site that accomplishes all of this and we’ve decided it’s time we build it.
Having raised over $50,000, the group behind the crowdfunding effort announced via a pastebin note that they plan to also crowdsource news:
In addition, we will be accepting content from the public. The introduction of this content will also be held to specific standards in regards to its quality, authenticity and relevance.
While Anonymous has demonstrated the capacity for recurrent collective activism, running a crowdfunded news service represents a form of professionalization. It will be interesting to see whether and how the news site will be able to both stay anonymous and secure the sustainability of its service. But the mere fact that Anons invest in improving one of their communication channels evidences the overall importance of communication channels for a fluid organizational form such as Anonymous.