Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet


January 2016

By Mike Gould

We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive, We do not forget. Expect us.
      ...A bunch of guys wearing Guy Fawkes masks, wielding mice and attitude

Back in the dim dark days of 2011, I wrote about WikiLeaks, and touched upon these guys (URL below):

….the denizens of 4chan's "Anonymous" group. This is an anarchic message board, whose members are also noted for their long-running attacks on the Church of Scientology and other groups that seek to censor the Internet.

Well, in the intervening five years they haven’t gone away; if anything, they have grown in relevance, becoming a force to consider, the bane of System Administrators worldwide.

That Was Then
To recap, once upon a time (and still going strong) there was an online bulletin board called 4chan which attracted some of the most anarchic and mischievous users of the Internet. This is a “…simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images”, according to their web-based point of entry. I’m not going to provide a link, as they have a large area of NSFW porn, but suffice it to say, it’s the World Wild Web and anything goes.

One large point is that anyone can post anonymously, say what they want, and no one IRL (In Real Life – i.e., what passes as reality for the rest of us) knows who said what. Formed in 2003, and based on a similar Japanese site, 2channel, the original intent was a place where people could post and talk about pictures from manga, anime, and general Japanese cultural ephemera (otaku). And when you posted, your ID was (and is) Anonymous – another meme was born.

But the anonymity appealed to the more creative and rowdier subsections of the Internet, and soon 4chan became one of the most prolific generators of memes online. LOLcats of “I can haz cheezburger” fame? Gestated at 4chan.

OK, so you have a bunch of guys (I’m sure there are some women involved, but most of the principals who have been outed are men, so I’m gonna declare this a guy thing for the moment) who get together to swap memes online, secure in their disconnect from IRL identities. At some point, somebody pointed out that the Church of Scientology (CoS) was doing their best to censor discussion of the church online, and somebody else said something to the effect “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to mess with them?”

When Geeks Attack
And so they did – in 2008 Project Chanology was launched. This consisted, according to Wikipedia, of “a series of protests, pranks, and hacks” that put secret CoS holy texts online, disrupted servers with Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks, and served up protests by masked demonstrators outside of church offices.

This evolved into “.. a loosely associated international network of activist and hacktivist entities… an Internet gathering" with "a very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives", as Wikipedia describes the current state of Anonymous. Members call themselves “anons”.

As with any anarchic collective, there are subsets, sub-sects, and offshoots, all existing under the same vague umbrella. Some believe that anons should stick to Lulz activies; relatively harmless pranks and silliness (these are called trolls). Lulz is geekspeak for laughs: Laughing Out Loud - LOL = Lulz, “the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium”, according to Mattathias Schwartz in the NYT in an article from 8/3/2008.

But that’s not what gets the attention these days: it’s those other guys (“moralfags”) who take their mission way seriously. “Let’s mess with those who piss us off” is their mantra, and so they do. Their activities are called “operations”, and here is an assortment:

2010 – Operation: Payback is a Bitch
Using DDoS attacks, Anonymous set their sights on the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. This was in retaliation for actions by those groups to shut down file sharing sites on the grounds that they were wretched hives of scum and villainy that violated copyrights. Anons share a belief that such behavior supports a ban on the free and open exchange of information.

Operation: Avenge Assange
In November of 2010, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange published the infamous trove of leaked US diplomatic communications. In response, Amazon booted the organization from its servers and PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa cut off service to the organization. In retaliation to that, Anons launched DDoS attacks on the above, with mixed results. Amazon shrugged off the attack and the others weathered the storm. Several anons were tracked down, arrested, convicted, and are serving time.

2011 - Operation: Tunisia
Anonymous contributed to the Arab Spring movements by attacking repressive government sites and providing instructions on how dissidents could communicate safely online.

Operation: Darknet
Anons attacked websites hosting child pornography, and leaked the names of users.

2012 Operation: Westboro Baptist Church
Anonymous temporarily shut down the God Hates Fags website, and continues to harass the church, as well as other homophobic and hate organizations.

Operation: Anti-Bully: Operation Hunt Hunter
This attacked Hunter Moore’s revenge porn site, “Is Anyone Up?”. Anons published much of his personal information, including his Social Security Number.

2013 Operation: Safe Winter
This operation is an effort to raise awareness about life among the homeless and to help those in need. Also related to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

… And This Is Now
There are a lot of other recent activities, including attacks on Israel in response to Gaza Strip military actions, declaring war on the KKK, jihadists, and ISIS. These last two have been met with widespread protests on the part of the world’s security bureaus, who claim that shutting down extremist sites will make them harder to monitor.

And as much as I try to dance around the minefield that is US politics in these columns, I have to point out that Anonymous just (yesterday, as I write this) declared war on Donald Trump in response to his recent anti-Muslim statements.

Please have a safe and Happy New Year!

Previous article that mentions Anonymous (When Bloggers Attack):

Mike Gould hopes to stay out of the crosshairs of Anonymous, CoS, and Donald Trump. This article probably isn’t helping. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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