“The thing about anon[ymous] is that you’re alone until you get to 4chan”, this line is spoken by a participating member of Anonymous in the documentary We Are Legion, directed by Brian Knappenberger. The documentary acts as an exploration of Anonymous; its origins, its actions and its members. Initially beginning as just a group of people with similar senses of humour and an interest in things such as computer coding, what has come of the group is something much larger. Though the documentary explores a few key moments in Anonymous’ history, I think focusing on one of these moments would be beneficial for this post.
Project Chanology refers to Anonymous’ conflict with the Church of Scientology – what began with a leaked video of Tom Cruise extolling the wonders of Scientology led to a huge protest against what it stood for. The leaked video was taken down due to copyright claims from the church, and with this act, Anonymous’ animosity was born. On 4chan, the home of several chat groups and forums for the members of the group, their attack plans were organised and orchestrated. This information is relayed to the audience in an expository fashion, the director employs heavy usage of talking heads coupled with archival footage; giving the documentary an informative and formal feel.
In Lina Dencik and Oliver Leistert’s In Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest: Between Control and Emancipation, they note that “near-instant communication amongst dispersed communities allows for a great number of organizational tasks to be more easily achieved” and this was absolutely the case with Project Chanology – throughout various countries and parts of America, organised attacks on the Church of Scientology’s websites and forums were launched, crashing most of the sites and most likely sending their IT departments into meltdown within hours, even causing the Scientology’s main website to move to a new web-based protection service.
An interesting facet of the documentary is its commitment to letting the members of the community speak as they wish to. The interviewees don’t shy away from speaking of the “luls” and “rick-rolls”, nor do they censor their language both in terms of profanity and political correctness. It instead presents itself as a true-to-life retelling of what happened. Instead of shying away from the dated stereotype of the basement-dwelling virgin, the members of the group discuss how these protest movements changed this and let a lot of the members develop healthy and thriving relationships.
As their online attacks were being countered more and more, Anonymous decided it would take their protest into the real world, picketing outside of the premises of various Scientology buildings throughout the world to great effect. Thousands turned out to the protests, in what can only be seen as a prime example of how hacktivism and online action can translate into real world action. Without the base online community of anonymous, a protest of this magnitude, taking place in various countries, against the Church of Scientology would not have been easily achieved. Dencik and Leistert noted that these new online methods can pave the path for greater organisation in protest, and this was absolutely the case with Project Chanology.
- Dencik, Lina and Oliver Leistert. “Introduction”. In Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest: Between Control and Emancipation. Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.
- Knappenberger, Brian. We Are Legion. US, 2012.