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In Germany, the renewed interest and media attention on the so-called ‘hacker collective’ Anonymous in the course of its recent #OpISIS – activities targeting online resources of Daesh terrorist groups – has lead to discussions whether one of the most followed German Facebook pages that is labeled “Anonymous” actually and legitimately belongs to Anonymous.
In a way, this is exactly the question that Dennis Schoeneborn and I have addressed in our recent paper on “Fluiditiy, Identity and Organizationality: The Communicative Constitution of Anonymous” (available open access until Dec. 4, 2015). If “Anonymous” is merely a label that anyone can pick up and use, how can some form of organizational identity and boundary be achieved? In short, if anyone can be Anonymous, who cannot speak on behalf of Anonymous? To address these questions, we investigated identity claims in the context of operations where the attribution of respective activities to Anonymous was disputed.
In the current debate, an article in Germany’s largest online news portal Spiegel Online illustrates how difficult drawing the line between ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ and ‘fake’ Anonymous communication can be. After emphasizing the huge numbers of additional followers a facebook page called “Anonymous.Kollektiv” allegedly run by Anonymous had received during #OpISIS (the page attracted 400.000 new fans within just one week in addition to their previous count of 1 million), the article points to the questionable content the site shares. Main topics are conspiracy theories, general criticism of “the lying media” (“Lügenpresse” in Germany) and many other more or less right-wing political issues. But then, at least conspiracy theories and criticism of mainstream media are also recurrent themes of many other social media accounts attributed to Anonymous. Read the rest of this entry »
It all began with a blog post back in 2012 entitled “Anonymous’ Boundaries: Expelling by Exposing” that I had prepared prior to a workshop on “organization as communication“. It describes how the so-called “hacker collective” Anonymous had expelled one of its self-identified members by exposing its full name, address and other contact information. The closing paragraph of this post reads as follows:
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.
After the workshop I teamed up with Dennis Schoeneborn and together we tried to harvest the explanatory potential of the case. Our joint efforts resulted in the paper “Fluidity, Identity and Organizationality: The Communicative Constitution of Anonymous”, which is now available as a pre-print version at Journal of Management Studies: Read the rest of this entry »
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: Read the rest of this entry »
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.”
A few days ago, the German collecting society GEMA was criticized by CEOs of leading music labels such as Universal or Sony Music for not being able to negotiate an agreement with Google, the owner of YouTube, that would allow their music videos to be featured on the site (see “Cracks in the Content Coalition: Corporations vs. Copyright Collectives“). Today the German branch of the hacktivism group Anonymous weighed in and launched a campaign against GEMA (see the video message below).
At the time I
am was writing this post, the GEMA homepage is was down, most likely because of a distributed denial-of-service attack – the standard form of online protest organized by Anonymous. The rationale for the attack given in the video explicitly refers to the recent criticism by major label representatives and reads as follows (my translation): Read the rest of this entry »