Manual J&C students witness Million Mask March


Peter Champelli

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OPINION: Anonymous protesters work more effectively online

The “hacktivist” group Anonymous was started in the early 2000s as a part of the chat room forum 4chan. Since then, the group has hacked into and taken down the websites of major corporations like PayPal and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and maintained their online origins while also participating in real-world activist movements like the protesting of Michael Brown’s shooting.

Although social justice “activism” is traditionally physical, like door to door campaigns and protests, these movements have slowly become more and more prevalent on the internet. Anonymous is the perfect example of this: their most successful operations were coordinated in chat rooms and targeted towards online businesses. The group’s past with primarily internet campaigns brings up the question: does Anonymous work better online rather than in a physical setting? And does the difference in setting affect protesters’ motivations? Anonymous is more powerful online because their physical protests draw in passive supporters who compromise the cause for looking cool.

One advantage the group has to working online is their strategy. With their attacks on the RIAA and the Church of Scientology they used a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), which essentially floods the receiving site’s traffic and crashes it. This kind of attack takes coordination and communication, but a protest in the streets may take even more communication.

Anonymous protesters stand back as police stand between them and the Capitol building. Photo taken by Peter Champelli.
Anonymous protesters stand back as police stand between them and the Capitol building. Photo taken by Peter Champelli.


Furthermore, a march or physical protest is much more likely to draw in passive protesters, or protesters that just participate for the aesthetic of the event, than internet campaigns are. For example, half of the protesters at the Million Mask March on Wednesday, Nov. 5 stood on the sidelines while the others were actively talking to the police and getting near the barriers. Even though these protesters on the sidelines might be able to identify with a cause or two, the actual activism is most likely not their motivation for participating.

Although the amount of passive protesters is related to the aesthetic rather than the cause, it still contributes to Anonymous’ effectiveness and how that effect varies from internet campaigns to real world protests.

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