Recent targets of the highly effective “Anonymous” cyberattacks, made in the name of freedom of speech and social justice, include the Belgian website of steel giant ArcelorMittal, hacked in January in protest against the closure of two blast furnaces; the website of the US private intelligence firm Stratfor, from which a large amount of personal data was stolen; the website of the Syrian ministry of defence; and that of the Spanish police after the arrest in Spain of three alleged members of Anonymous.
Who hides behind the Anonymous mask? Elite hackers, ignorant adolescents, dangerous cyberterrorists or simply trolls (1) with a childish sense of humour? All these definitions miss the mark, because Anonymous is multifaceted: it is not a group or network but a collective, or more accurately, several collectives that support each other.
In an extreme way, Anonymous symbolises the protest movements throughout the Arab world, Europe and the US since 2011. The gulf that separates them from the political systems they oppose can be seen in their radically different ways of organising. The political systems have a hierarchical structure, with leaders empowered to speak on behalf of all through the delegation of powers, but their legitimacy has been undermined by corruption and favouritism. The collectives deliberately have no leaders, and reject the principle of representation in favour of individuals directly participating in concrete actions. Their diversity means decisions can be made quickly, by the participants coming together on a specific issue, rather than by getting an official majority. The political establishment cannot understand such forms of organisation or their lack of concrete demands.