A flag conveying symbolism associated with Anonymous. The imagery of the "suit without a head" represents leaderless organization and anonymity.
Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is a group initiating active civil disobedience and spread through the Internet while staying hidden, originating in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many online community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain. It is also generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known.
In its early form, the concept has been adopted by a decentralized online community acting anonymously in a coordinated manner, usually toward a loosely self-agreed goal, and primarily focused on entertainment. Beginning with 2008, the Anonymous collective has become increasingly associated with collaborative, international hacktivism, undertaking protests and other actions, often with the goal of promoting internet freedom and freedom of speech. Actions credited to "Anonymous" are undertaken by unidentified individuals who apply the Anonymous label to themselves as attribution.
Although not necessarily tied to a single online entity, many websites are strongly associated with Anonymous. This includes notable imageboards such as 4chan, Futaba, their associated wikis, Encyclopædia Dramatica, and a number of forums. After a series of controversial, widely-publicized protests and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks by Anonymous in 2008, incidents linked to its cadre members have increased. In consideration of its capabilities, Anonymous has been posited by CNN to be one of the three major successors to WikiLeaks.
Origins as a concept and a meme
An anonymous figure cosplays as Anonymous. Photographed at ROFLcon on April 26, 2008
The name Anonymous itself is inspired by the perceived anonymity under which users post images and comments on the Internet. Usage of the term Anonymous in the sense of a shared identity began on imageboards. A tag of Anonymous is assigned to visitors who leave comments without identifying the originator of the posted content. Users of imageboards sometimes jokingly acted as if Anonymous were a real person. As the popularity of imageboards increased, the idea of Anonymous as a collective of unnamed individuals became an internet meme.
Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an unnamed collective. As a multiple-use name, individuals who share in the "Anonymous" moniker also adopt a shared online identity, characterized as hedonistic and uninhibited. This is intended as a satirical, conscious adoption of the online disinhibition effect.
“ We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need — just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn't be able to do in regular society. ...That's more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. ... There's a common phrase: 'we are doing it for the lulz.' ”
—Trent Peacock. Search Engine: The face of Anonymous, February 7, 2008.
Definitions tend to emphasize the fact that the concept, and by extension the collective of users, cannot be readily encompassed by a simple definition. Instead it is often defined by aphorisms describing perceived qualities. One self-description is:
We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Iconography and aesthetics
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information on Anonymous subcultural elements; common images, themes, concepts, etc.
As a cyberculture, Anonymous aesthetics are based in various forms of shock humor, including genres of cringe, surreal, and black comedy
“ [Anonymous is] the first Internet-based superconsciousness. 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 traveling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely. ”
—Chris Landers. Baltimore City Paper, April 2, 2008.
Anonymous consists largely of users from multiple imageboards and Internet forums. In addition, several wikis and Internet Relay Chat networks are maintained to overcome the limitations of traditional imageboards. These modes of communication are the means by which Anonymous protesters participating in Project Chanology communicate and organize upcoming protests.
A "loose coalition of Internet denizens," the group is banded together by the Internet, through sites such as 4chan, 711chan,Encyclopædia Dramatica,IRC channels, and YouTube. Social networking services, such as Facebook, are used for the creation of groups which reach out to people to mobilize in real-world protests.
Anonymous has no leader or controlling party and relies on the collective power of its individual participants acting in such a way that the net effect benefits the group. "Anyone who wants to can be Anonymous and work toward a set of goals..." a member of Anonymous explained to the Baltimore City Paper. "We have this agenda that we all agree on and we all coordinate and act, but all act independently toward it, without any want for recognition. We just want to get something that we feel is important done..."
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information on revealed or former members (Gregg Housh, Barrett Brown, etc).
According to self-ascribed members of Anonymous, membership is conditional but easily achieved, being as simple as concealing oneself while performing online activities. Conversely, the simple act of having one's identity revealed automatically removes oneself from the group. Several members or former members have been interviewed or become noted for their own participation in certain Anonymous activities.
In 2011, an elusive hacker known by the alias "Commander X" was at the center of an investigation into Anonymous by Aaron Barr. Interviewed following the attack on HBGary Federal, Commander X revealed that while Barr suspected that he was a leader of the group, he was in his own words a "peon". However, Commander X did claim to be a skilled hacker and founding member of an allied organization, the Peoples Liberation Front (PLF), a collective of hactivists founded in 1985. According to Commander X, Peoples Liberation Front acted with AnonOps, another sub-group of Anonymous, to carry out denial-of-service attacks against government websites in Tunisia, Iran, Egypt, and Bahrain. Asked about the demographics of Anonymous, Commander X indicated that the common conception of Anonymous as a youth group is a misconception. "The popular impression is....skewed. There are older people, from the direction of the Chaos Computer Club – that can if needed rein in the "kids" who appear to dominate Anon Ops." Explaining the relationship between Anonymous and the PLF, he suggested an analogy to NATO, with the PLF being a smaller sub-group that could choose to opt-in or out of a specific project. "Anon Ops and the PLF are both capable of creating huge "Internet armies". The main difference is Anon Ops moves with huge force, but very slowly because of their decision making process. The PLF moves with great speed, like a scalpel."