Anonomous and the Future of Internet Activism

In an article on Wired Quinn Norton goes into depth analysing the phenonomen that is Anonomous, where it's seemingly random actions stem from and the various transitions it has passed through from just doing it for the Lulz to OpTunisia.

No one but Hector Xavier Monsegur can know why or when he became Sabu, joining the strange and chaotic Internet collective known as Anonymous. But we know the moment he gave Sabu up. On June 7, 2011, federal agents came to his apartment on New York’s Lower East Side and threatened the 28-year-old with an array of charges that could add up to 124 years in prison. So Hector Monsegur, who as Sabu had become a mentor and icon to fellow members of Anonymous, surrendered his online identity to a new, equally faceless and secretive master: the FBI.

The possibility that Anonymous might be telling the truth—that it couldn’t be shut down by jailing or flipping or bribing key participants—was why it became such a terrifying force to powerful institutions worldwide, from governments to corporations to nonprofits. Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization. To hear the group and its defenders talk, the leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it a mystical, almost supernatural force, impossible not just to stop but to even comprehend. Anons were, they liked to claim, united as one and divided by zero—undefined and indefinable.

In fact, the success of Anonymous without leaders is pretty easy to understand—if you forget everything you think you know about how organizations work. Anonymous is a classic “do-ocracy,” to use a phrase that’s popular in the open source movement. As the term implies, that means rule by sheer doing: Individuals propose actions, others join in (or not), and then the Anonymous flag is flown over the result. There’s no one to grant permission, no promise of praise or credit, so every action must be its own reward.

What’s harder to comprehend—but just as important, if you want to grasp the future of Anonymous after the arrests—is the radical political consciousness that seized this innumerable throng of Internet misfits. Anonymous became dangerous to governments and corporations not just because of its skills (lots of hackers have those) or its scale but because of the fury of its convictions. In the beginning, Anonymous was just about self-amusement, the “lulz,” but somehow, over the course of the past few years, it grew up to become a sort of self-appointed immune system for the Internet, striking back at anyone the hive mind perceived as an enemy of freedom, online or offline. It started as a gang of nihilists but somehow evolved into a fervent group of believers. To understand that unlikely transformation, and Anonymous’ peculiar method of (non)organization, it is necessary to start at the very beginning.

Wired Article