It's Hard to Report When Your Subject is Anonymous

Despite high profile activity such as Distributed Denial of Service attacks against Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa, the digital activist group Anonymous is notoriously difficult to report on.

Unlike traditional groups, there’s no clear leader or spokesperson. 

Instead, Anonymous organizes like the Web it uses as its platform: as a series of weak and strong links, with a variety of hubs representing the group’s activities. 

For example, over the past two months, Anonymous has claimed responsibility for digital attacks in support of pro-democracy movements against governmental agencies and resources in Egypt and Tunisia, and against Zimbabwe for its censorship of WikiLeaks documents.

Most recently, Anonymous exposed internal emails from the security firm HBGary Federal that demonstrate how it was about embark on a disinformation campaign against pro-union organizers in the United States.

Still, news organizations can’t quite put their finger on who they are, and why they do what they do.

Writes Gillian Terzis in The Altantic:

For the most part, the mainstream media remains befuddled by Anonymous, not knowing quite what to make of the group’s mélange of illegal activity, political motivations and sardonic sense of humor. Moreover, as the group does not visibly toil on any ideological coalface, media outlets have been tempted to portray Anonymous as a group of lonesome hackers with nebulous but shadowy intent. Mass rallies — like the ones in Wisconsin — make for an easy, linear media narrative. But electronic subterfuge and virtual activism are often depicted as a bloodless sport — the least compelling kind.

Or, as Chris Landers wrote a few years back:

Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.

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