Anonymous vs. The Guardian

[This is a guest post by Gabriella Coleman. Gabriella is an assistant professor in the Dept of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU. Her work examines the politics of digital media.]

So one of the reasons I was motived to write a post about the aesthetics of Anonymous was due, in part, to some problematic representations of the phenomenon in the mainstream press. The Guardian, in their latest article on Anonymous, managed again to offer up what is at best a crime-show television grasp of reality, when it comes to social communicative norms in digital spaces. I know that sounds especially harsh but I guess since I was misquoted, this time it is now personal.

One of the reporters emailed me letting me know he enjoyed the Savage Minds post and asked some questions, which I answered but none of that material made it in there. They instead provide this summary of my “position” providing a link to an Atlantic piece I wrote last week. They write:

Members of the group and outside experts such as Gabriella Coleman, a New York University professor who has studied Anonymous, estimate that up to 1,000 people are members of the broader network, who make their computers available to co-ordinated cyber attacks.

The irony is that my article they link to actually deconstructs the idea of a group and members. So they  use language of groups and members that I otherwise challenge in the piece they link to!! Also the numbers do not match at all: I never ever told them that up to 1,000 people are members of the broader network. The Atlantic mentions that thousands were involved, again not using a language of members or group. As to the theme of the article—hierarchy–to be sure, the issue of leaders and power must be interrogated and  there have bee discussions of this very topic among some Anonymous, but I would hardly call it a rigid hierarchy much less characterize it as some “group” where 1% hold the power and the other 99% are useless chaff.

You can read more about how some of anon has received the piece here.

8 thoughts on “Anonymous vs. The Guardian

  1. With all the vitriol surrounding Assange, I am surprised nothing of it has been blasted against Annonymous. Perhaps the political value of an identifiable figure such as Assange, a face to solidify a politician’s attack on the uncensored dispersal of classified information, finds little hold when dealing with something that seems more to the aesthetics of Mardi Gras: everyone is behind masks, and those masks seem to be changing on a moment by moment basis. Annonymous, being what its name implies, defeats the impact of the politician-on-the-stump; strikingly, after the initial flurry of outrage, it all seems to have died down.
    And yet, I wonder about the value of this whole exercise–most politicians simply shrug their shoulders, and say so-it-goes; while the releases seem to quickly evaporate without much fallout. Does this imply that for the releases to have any lasting and purposeful effect there has to be a figure behind them, a solid body? If we consider the history of Daniel Ellsberg and the White House Papers, Ellsberg simply didn’t release the papers and then vanish in the background. being annonymous (or with minimal hierarchical structure) may be one of the weapons of the weak, but are we still in an environment that if power speaks to power it has to do so through hierarchical structures?

  2. What troubles me is more that the media seems to be content in its ignorance or unwilling to investigate the actual meaning of Anonymous with even the most basic of journalistic rigor. The information around Anonymous is not obfuscated or buried, which begs the question, in what other areas are journalists grossly misreporting that which they do not understand?

  3. On a related note, James Gee argues that the popular notion of ‘communities of practice‘ (Wenger, see also Lloyd 2007) is of little use to understand increasingly common forms of sociality that do not entail group membership or a sense of belonging, e.g. real-time strategy computer games. Instead of communities of practice he proposes the notion of ‘affinity spaces’. These are spaces in which people from a variety of backgrounds come together to pursue a common endeavour or goal.

    Gee, J. (2005) Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces. In D. Barton and K. Tusting (eds) Beyond Communities of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    http://johnpostill.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/affinity-spaces-vs-communities-of-practice/

  4. Thanks for pointing out that piece JOhn, will also def check out.

    With Anonymous vs the Church of Scientology, when Anon started to protest on the street, things got a bit more group-like but even then, I pause, since the interaction among Anon in different cities was quite different. Lots of autonomy not only in local nodes but in the different faces as well.

  5. I cannot say I’m surprised this sort of thing, because the truth is that we have been rather cryptic about our operation and organization, although the latter is no secret, we have no organization of any kind.

    I hope this link will clarify you a bit how we function.
    The operation paperstorm start tonight worldwide – follow #paperstorm on twitter-.

    Thank you.

    We Do Not Forgive,
    We Do Not Forget,

    We Are Legion …

  6. I don’t understand why an academic, even in media studies, in his or her right mind would ever talk to, write articles for, or answer e-mails from, anything even remotely smelling of the popular press. It is Russian Roulette, and some day the round gets chambered.

    Any media: right, left, fringe, gutter.

    It will raise the standards of media if they are universally ignored, and forced to extract material out of dry professional journals, and put the brains back on they checked out when they graduated from journalism school. I’m sorry about the vast majority who deal properly with what they’ve handled, but that can’t be helped.

    –dan, University of British Columbia.

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