Anony­mous and the Pol­i­tics of So­cial Media


Session Title:

  • Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media

Presentation Title:

  • Anony­mous and the Pol­i­tics of So­cial Media




  • Panel: Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media

    ‘‘We will stop at noth­ing until we’ve achieved our goal. Per­ma­nent de­struc­tion of the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion role.” _ Anony­mous
    The rev­o­lu­tion of so­cial media has been her­alded in by utopian ap­peals to rein­vig­o­rate democ­racy.   West­ern media at­trib­uted the suc­cess of dis­si­dent move­ments in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to twit­ter, face­book, wik­ileaks, and var­i­ous other so­cial media plat­forms.  So­cial media not only pro­duce rad­i­cal spon­tane­ity in the form of Flash­mobs, swarms, or mul­ti­tudes needed to or­ga­nize and demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity, but also glob­ally dis­trib­ute ev­i­dence that ex­poses the bru­tal­ity and cor­rup­tion of var­i­ous coun­tries’ re­spec­tive regimes (e.g., China’s ‘human flesh search en­gine’ group).  But at the same time these same tech­nolo­gies can be co-opted by gov­ern­ments, se­cret ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions and their neme­sis, global ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions and rogue states to mon­i­tor, cen­sor, track and con­trol users, whis­tle-blow­ers, pop­u­la­tions and the traf­fic of in­for­ma­tion (as in the case with China, Iran and Egypt), thereby un­der­min­ing the very de­mo­c­ra­tic ideals and calls for free­dom upon which such ap­peals were pred­i­cated. As a re­sult the dis­course of ethics and ac­count­abil­ity be­comes more and more en­tan­gled with pol­i­tics.  The one thing that is clear is that so­cial media have ren­dered in­di­vid­ual pri­vacy and gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate se­crecy al­most im­pos­si­ble to sus­tain.  In this game of ex­po­sure, being iden­ti­fied has be­come an­other form of vul­ner­a­bil­ity. The eva­sion of gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate sur­veil­lance has lead to al­ter­na­tive mod­els of think­ing about so­cial media and its re­la­tion­ship to agency, pol­i­tics, and per­cep­tion.

    This paper will look at the re­la­tion­ship of the group Anony­mous to Wik­ileaks spokesper­son Ju­lian As­sange. The media has re­duced the dis­cus­sion of Anony­mous’s at­tacks on those com­mer­cial ser­vices that (under pres­sure from the US gov­ern­ment) de­nied ser­vice to As­sange to an eth­i­cal ques­tion — one that im­plies in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity and crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.  In­stead, I will con­cen­trate on how Anony­mous mim­ics net­works (like the free soft­ware and open source move­ments or the Cre­ative Com­mons) or crowd sourc­ing pro­jects (like Foldit) in its dis­si­dent and con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cal ac­tions.  By mim­ic­k­ing gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate tac­tics it ques­tions the cri­te­ria for a eth­i­cal dis­course in re­la­tion to so­cial media, and it points to the lim­its of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of sub­ver­sive groups that de­pend on mul­ti­ple users rather than lead­ers or fig­ure heads like As­sange him­self.  Rather than at­tempt to pro­duce some au­then­tic group iden­tity, Anony­mous has bor­rowed the mask of Guy Fawkes from the graphic novel and/or film, V for Vendetta.  In this re­spect iden­tity func­tions more like a meme, that is passed peer-to-peer, and sub­ject to in­fi­nite mod­u­la­tion.