Unveiling the Mask: the Origins of the Mystery of Anonymous Group

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

It’s July 23rd and as I sit in the computer lab at CSUSB I contemplate through my old essays trying to gain some insight or topics for the research on this third final essay. I stared at the Essay 1 prompt and skimmed briefly through the passage. I then quickly pulled out my Final Essay 1 from my folder and began to peruse through it, reading carefully through every detail in my paper. The topic for my first essay revolved around hackers since I was recounting an experience from social media, in this case, it was from Snapchat. In short, I was hacked sometime in the beginning of this year and luckily, to my belief, none of my information, personal photos, or messages were stolen. At this point, I then stopped reading over when I saw the word hackers. As I reread this portion of my essay, I decided I wanted to learn more about hackers in depth. I immediately went onto the search engine online and scoured through the results on the web for hackers. At first, I was looking for a certain name, a person. I was hopeful I would find an individual with an interesting story to retell or mention in my essay. However, the first word that stood out to me was Anonymous. Anonymous as in nameless and not knowing who that person is, I was intrigued. I double clicked and read through the first page of Google which had various sites for this topic.

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When I first read across the line “Anonymous”, I thought it was the same as anonymous. They are not. Anonymous is a group of hackers and activists who spread their word of social reform towards the general audience, mainly through the use of social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. However, most Anonymous members are indeed anonymous (being nameless and unknown). They conceal their identity to the world, perhaps for privacy and safety, especially from the grasps of the government. Their identity is concealed by the use of a mask and having their voices altered so they are not recognized or retraced to their original location. The distinctive mask that they utilize is the Guy Fawkes Mask, the same one from the movie V for Vendetta. The Guy Fawkes Mask is an unusual mask with white coloring and a striking expression of the individual himself, Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes is a name that is unheard to many including to me, however, he was, in fact, one of the most memorable participants from the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. During this time in the United Kingdom, the monarchy was against Catholicism and Catholic priests were ordered to leave England while followers of this faith were fined if they did not attend Protestant services. The plan, assembled by a total of 13 men, was to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London with gunpowder. However, it was cut short when word of this plan spread through an anonymous letter, resulting in the death of these men including Guy Fawkes. This Guy Fawkes mask represents the injustice these men including Fawkes were fighting against, despite this fight being against such a higher authority. The mask has thus become a symbol and trademark throughout the globe for the Anonymous hacktivists (hackers and activists) since they also fight for their ideas and beliefs of justice no matter who the fight is against.

To begin with the creation of Anonymous one must go back in time to the year 2005 online. The origin of Anonymous began through trolling with the help of 4chan, “a popular online image board that is widely perceived to be one of the most offensive quarters of the Internet…” (Coleman 83). Individuals and groups of individuals would post videos or make remarks online mostly about politics or social reform, under the name of Anonymous. Many would later join in and this chain of posting under Anonymous would increase. As trolls, these posts were offensive to most. However, it did create a desire to respond or allow one’s opinion to be heard. The Anonymous would post about a matter perhaps, not always. in a mocking situation and therefore, the onlookers would pitch in. Regardless for their trolling, Anonymous caught the eye of the public whether it was through the feeling of hate, love, or neutrality; these common folk wanted to hear more from them. Perhaps this was because many people like you and I are afraid at times to let our voices be heard or at least be the first one to speak. Anonymous created a spark and chain of followers within their community. Whether someone agreed with this online group or not, Anonymous was able to retrieve what they wanted. They easily possessed a way in which ordinary people were engaging in important topics while searching for a change in our world. As a result, by 2009 Anonymous arose in popularity and was well known enough to be even called the “Internet hate machine” by Fox News since these hacktivists made their opinions viral to any type of commentary including negative feedback.

Anonymous first obtained immense recognition and interest from the public when they targeted the Church of Scientology and their ideals. “Trolling against the Church of Scientology began in January 2008”, when members from Anonymous had noted, “...the infamous internal recruitment video of Tom Cruise praising the church’s efforts to “create new and better realities” (Coleman 75). The Church of Scientology terrorized those in power who were able to take down this video such as Web publishers. However, nothing could be done since this subject immediately grasped the attention of Anonymous since the video and situation had gone viral. Anonymous took desperate measures and made their opinion towards the Church of Scientology as clear as possible. Anonymous wreaked havoc and placed shame on the Church of Scientology by “order[ing] unpaid pizzas and escorts for Scientology churches across North America, faxed images of nude body parts to churches and relentlessly phone pranked the church, in particular the Dianetics hotline…” (Coleman 75). As a result, Project Chanology was created to troll the belief system of this church. Up to the present time, Project Chanology continues its debacle against the Church of Scientology.

As stated previously, many citizens have different perspectives towards Anonymous mainly in regards their aim. Their aim would be to allow their voice or message to be heard and thus, to create a response from their viewers through means of action. Gabriella Coleman brings up the reference from Ernst Bloch’s “the principle of hope” in her text “Our Weirdness is Free”. It seems that Anonymous brings a sense of hope to the majority since they are truthful and request for improvement in the world such as from the law. Many viewers may see themselves as agreeing with Anonymous since they are willing to state their ideas out to the world without fear of backlash or disagreement. Anonymous is the voice of the people who are too afraid to speak up or are unaware of the problems going on in our world today. To many they are the vigilantes, serving righteousness when no one else will stand up due to fear or doubt. Serracino-Inglott and Mikhaylova even express that Anonymous are cyber-vigilantes since they began on screen, online. However, rather than the use of violence, Philip suggests that Anonymous uses “probative punishment” to appeal to their service, such as through their words/speeches which could result in shaming. Philip Serracino-Inglott then “implies that Anonymous’ actions are motivated by the good of the community” (225). Anonymous has a strong devotion towards creating and attaining justifiable values for their community. They unmask the fallacious wrongs in the world we live in and spurt out the truth. However, the question remains if whether Anonymous is good or bad, as a whole, since they do cast shame upon their adversary. As vigilantes, these mixed feelings among the general public remain and further questions emerge about the integrity and realness of Anonymous.

For example, anyone can masquerade their true self and take upon themselves the identity of another on screen. Many have posted on social media and have claimed to be from Anonymous. They are scammers trying to taint the name that Anonymous has created for themselves over the years. This is where I believe that a problem or issue may commence for the heroes of the belittled. Anyone can post on social media and in fact, they are part of Anonymous. Anonymous is not inclusive to just anyone. As Geneva Sands expresses, absolutely any person has the authority to display themselves as Anonymous to use the brand to put forth any cause that individual or group of people may believe in. This could be faltering for these hacktivists since anyone can post, those without the experience or knowledge, even those who have contradicting opinions or even those who have no intentions of righteousness as other members. Also, some Anonymous members take advantage of what has been achieved by Anonymous over the years for personal gain. Thus, the name remains soiled. For instance, despite these hacktivists being anonymous some identities have been uncovered. Some known or recent members from Anonymous include Hector Xavier Monsegur and Jeremy Hammond. Due to his hacking skills, Monsegur and the group he created from Anonymous members, LulzSec, were able to access personal info from the database of companies such as Sony Pictures. Usernames, passwords, and profiles were stolen online from millions of accounts. This gathered intel would be discarded onto Pastebin, an app that allows you store and share any type of content with others online. Monsegur and his members of LulzSec had no regards for these users privacy. David Holme’s states that “LulzSec’s justification at the time was that Sony Pictures’ security was "… disgraceful and insecure: they were asking for it”. To follow up, many from LulzSec were upfront to say that they committed such a crime for the lulz (the laughs). This implements further shame upon Anonymous. However, this has not stopped the Anonymous movement since what rises to be superior after all is morality. These hacktivists continue with their actions of spreading their remarks towards improvement in policies and awareness to the rest of the world, despite any sort of drawbacks. As a whole, Anonymous are an illustration of bringing awareness for the population about the right to justice for all.

All in all, it is no mystery that Anonymous’ intentions towards the public are clear. They wish to create a chain in events where their opinions on social reforms for a better and right living heard. They get their message out through social media. Once it is heard, the public dictates what happens next with their actions. If Anonymous creates a large enough audience, it could result in something such as sharing that post or video. It could even have more immense results such as the participation of those who agree in riots, proceeding along with Anonymous’ cause or message. One reaction after another appears to increase in numbers, in counting their audience, the public. Despite the shame that at times is placed upon targets such as individuals or big corporations, most of the time the people agree. As stated earlier, they are hope and resonate the desire for justice.

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