Anonymous vs. Scientology: A Case Study of Digital Media

    by Dan Schultz
    February 15, 2008

    So far I have avoided bringing up specific events and breaking stories here even when they might illustrate relevant uses of digital media. The reason for this is that I’m not really a reporter, but I’ve been watching something play out over the Internet and it is just too interesting to pass up. I’m talking about the recently declared and currently unfolding “War on Scientology” that is being led by an online group called “Anonymous.” It is a really fascinating case study of how current technologies and information dissemination via digital media can snowball into something that actually results in real world action.

    I’ll supply background in case you find the story gripping, but this post is really about what digital media systems should facilitate in physical communities. A careful observer will also notice that the “war” involves many of the concepts being discussed on the IdeaLab. For instance: discrepancies between mainstream and independent news coverage, digitally coordinated action across the world, utilization of user driven systems, issues of credibility, and the relevance of specific physical location.

    The Background
    I’ll try to summarize things as quickly as possible, but it’s all rather complicated so bear with me! Also keep in mind that I heard about this the same way a lot of people did – Digg, YouTube, Google, and some scattered mainstream Media coverage – so there may be holes in the story.


    Around January 16th 2008 some part of a back-alley online community titled Anonymous (aptly named because it is composed only of nameless members – they have no pseudonyms, aliases, or digital identities) decided that they were frustrated with the way The Church of Scientology has handled itself as an organization. They decided to try to do something about this frustration and pulled out the digital battle drums – which I assume involved a post on their community’s site announcing the problems with Scientology and looking to see if anyone wanted to help do something about it.

    On January 21st someone uploaded a video to YouTube which ominously listed Anonymous’ complaints and announced an Internet led “war” on the Church of Scientology (note the 2 million + views). Because Anonymous is anonymous I can’t even try to guess how many people were involved at this point, but apparently it was enough to cause a decent amount of online buzz.

    The message was spread through various channels of the Internet – YouTube, Digg, online community forums, etc. They also got a blip or two on the mainstream media radar. The interesting part is that efforts weren’t being organized by “leaders” – they were being organized completely via anonymous individuals using a public wiki, meaning anyone could change anything (much like you see on Wikipedia).


    Over the next few weeks members of Anonymous began to harass Scientology and continued to make the occasional “press release”. More importantly, though, vloggers, bloggers, and countless other individuals gave their two cents through response videos on YouTube, comments on Digg, and contributions to the blogosphere. Some supported the movement, some just felt it was going to be interesting to watch, and some condemned Anonymous as misguided “cyber-terrorists”, unscrupulous, or simply boring; however it seemed their cause was resonating with people, generating attention, and even starting to be discussed outside of the Internet.

    At this point a few more Internet-focused mainstream media folks took notice and mentioned it in various segments. Known critics of the Church of Scientology like Mark Bunker also chimed in and offered advice and criticisms of the anonymous efforts. After listening to the Internet response and gaining support, the anonymous digital harassment changed to legal, more traditional methods. Someone else uploaded a video to YouTube announcing plans for international protests on February 10th.

    For me these “real life” protests, where 6000+ people protested in 70+ different cities around the world, are what pushed this whole debacle from “interesting to watch” to “what can we learn from this”. This takes us to today, where another round of protests is being planned for March 15th.

    One of Anonymous’ forums has a compiled list of links to local and national news coverage. I would definitely recommend watching some of the news reports if you want to learn more.

    Key Success Factors
    That’s the story as I’ve seen it, so the question to ask now is how did they do it? How did a fairly small group of completely anonymous individuals manage to generate several million views worth of buzz on the internet? And finally, how did they actually bridge the gap and apply that buzz into real, physical world protests? Thinking about it may help inspire thoughts about where digital media is now, where it can go, and what would improve it.

    Although there were plenty of things that could have gone better, here are some components that I think had a lot to do with how Anonymous was able to bring their movement to where it is today:

    1. Community-driven issues. Anonymous was a previously established community (albeit a non-traditional one) and its members were able to identify this issue as one that they had a passion for. Compare a community issue to one that is loosely backed by otherwise unrelated individuals and you will see why this matters.
    2. Effective targeted digital communication tools. User media sites allow for quick information dissemination to exactly the type of people that Anonymous wanted reach – active members of The Internet community. Those sites let others join in by participating in the conversation, passing the word along, or simply learning more on their own/taking some sort of personal action. Public wikis and forums also helped by supporting coordination and made it possible for anyone to propose and organize action.
    3. Tacit understanding of those tools and their potential. Anonymous was familiar with the existing digital media infrastructure (Digg, YouTube, community forums, etc.) and could use it effectively to get their message out.
    4. Attention and responsiveness to community feedback. Organizers and communicators adapted and listened to their audience; feedback shaped the movement. You can see a clear shift in Anonymous’ direction in response to audience members’ comments late January. Had Anonymous simply continued on as it began (i.e. through illegal harassment), it is unlikely that the group would have gained much/any worldwide support and I definitely wouldn’t be writing this post right now.
    5. Availability of information (to enable critical analysis). There is a lot of content from all perspectives scattered around the internet, so curious parties could look into things on their own using the glories of Google. I’m sure some people may have joined in without checking other sources, but more cautious media consumers had the resources needed to develop personal opinions before getting involved.

    Lessons and Observations
    I remember Knight Foundation representatives specifically saying that digital communities don’t need our help, which is why News Challenge applicants were required to focus on the physical. I think the Anonymous story illustrates how right they were, but why is it true? What is the functional difference between a physical community and digital communities such as the Diggers, the YouTubers, or Anonymous?

    Both types of community have services that allow me to get an understanding of “the vibe”. The main difference here is how effectively it is done (i.e. how powerful and usable are the information systems). I have talked about this a little bit in the past; in fact, a fair chunk of my posts to this blog have simply about making systems that serve physical community news more sophisticated and accurately targeted.

    Assuming I can get “the vibe” from some sources, how accurate is it? Ideally the local newspaper has made an effort to ensure it reflects the physical community it serves. In a digital community though, the membership is able to collectively set its own agenda. In other words, the Internet makes it possible to let the community decide for itself what is important. Anonymous’ message only became popular because some portion of the community agreed – it was bottom up instead of top down.

    A final point is simply that physical communities aren’t naturally connected to many-to-many communication technologies. G Patton Hughes has shown that it is possible to successfully apply forums to physical communities, but I’m not convinced that the decentralized creation of ad hoc p-community forums provides an efficient and universally appropriate solution. Digital communities, on the other hand, are directly connected to communication tools; in fact they were probably built around them.

    That wraps up my initial observations about this story as it relates to us, although there is a lot more that can be learned from it if you dedicate the time and snoop around. It shows that digital media can be used to facilitate identification of issues, effective provision of information about those issues, coordinated responses, and vital conversations. Hopefully it also resulted in some ideas about where to go from here if we want to use digital technology to empower physical communities.

    Tagged: agenda collective agenda digital community physical community

    47 responses to “Anonymous vs. Scientology: A Case Study of Digital Media”

    1. Rick Remaro says:

      March 15th, 2008
      ~~“It is better to be unborn than untaught: for ignorance is the root of misfortune.~~ Plato

    2. David Wynn says:

      Scientology had long before left a bad taste in the mouths of many anons.

      Scientology tried to harass SomethingAwful.com into removing Scientology-based news articles written by contributors, and this backfired. They also tried to harrass YTMND.com into removing sites critical to them, but had to step down their efforts when they realized they caused more damage than they hoped to contain…

    3. T.R. Devlin says:

      That’s actually an interesting idea. “How did this all come about?”. It certainly is an amazing feat, if not a completely surprising one. It just came out of the blue one day for most people. It really is inspiring.

    4. scientologistfamily says:

      Anonymous have given a voice to people who have been silenced by the ‘church’ of scientology for decades. They are bringing an understanding of what scientology is really about to a wide audience. The mainstream media are following the protests and people are signing on line e petitions in the USA and the UK to request changes to the law regarding scientology’s tax exemption, to restrict it’s recruiting front groups and to request an investigation by the Inland Revenue into treatment of scientology staff in relation to minimum wage laws:

      Uk petitions:

      Petition in the USA:

    5. Anonymous says:

      boring and most of it isn’t acurate

    6. Dan Schultz says:

      Sorry to bore you Anon — although to be fair you weren’t my target audience here;)

      as for being inaccurate sorry again! I did warn you I wasn’t a reporter! Please let me know of the corrections though (but keep in mind this is an objective piece whose focus is on digital media)

    7. Anon says:

      Nice article. Indeed the translation from the digital world into real life activities is an interesting phenomenon. This article has been well received by Anonymous.


    8. Anonymous says:

      Very good article. I would love to see Anonymous examined more closely from a sociological/academic perspective.

      Now that YouTube has decided to censor Anonymous, you’ve got another phenomenon to examine.

    9. John Bryans Fontaine says:

      Having once been a member of the Cult known as $cientology, I greatly applaud the courage of Anonymous. There were few men in the 20th Century more mendacious and cunning than its founder: L. Ron Hubbard.

      If one has any questions about the Cult, start with the their symbol: the crossed – out cross. That is how Scientology really feels about Christianity.

      The War against this Lying, suppressive Cult will grow stronger by the day, until the victorious day comes when Hubbard’s Neo-Thuggee Cult can neither fool nor threaten anyone.

    10. Roland says:

      I think a sixth point should have been included in the factors of success as well:

      Humor. :)

      Parodies, jokes, the existing Internet culture of lolz. The Church of Scientology was fertile ground not just because it was an organization with reported human rights abuses– that alone wouldn’t be enough to attract the attention of Anonymous. No, one of the elements that fueled the people was the CoS’s inherently absurd nature, one that isn’t found in more conventional issues of war in another country or bad government policy and so on. Those are just Serious Business. The CoS? That’s a body that makes profit and hurts people by using a highly mockable premise– a pyramid-scheme pseudoreligion founded by a sci-fi author– so we have both the hilarious and the serious issues combined. A highly attractive package to pique the interest of any denizen of the 21st-century internets.

    11. Dawn Olsen says:

      Dan, I think your assessment of the actual hows and whys is fairly accurate.

      Anonymous was able to take their collective grievances against a specific target (CoS), assimilate themselves to the focused objective of others who’d been involved in this information war (Mark Bunker, Arnie Lerma) and use their numbers and internet savvy to create a grassroots movement of spreading information.

      As a entity, Scientology has been allowed to thrive through their control of information. CoS has vast resources at its disposal and has been successful in stifling individual critics through litigation, and of course, their own numbers.

      With a faceless and nameless target like Anonymous, it became a fruitless endeavor of plugging holes and putting out endless fires for the CoS. What it boils down to is their monetary and legal resources were no match for Anonymous sheer numbers and a new climate of social media tools in which to virally spread the message.

      Even if you take out the CoS angle to all of this, what Anonymous accomplished was a brilliant strategy of social activism which has no borders, no nationalities, and no governing body to control it. There ability to self-police says a lot about their core base as well.

      The applications are endless and the possibilities limitless. A group like Anonymous, or any future group that might arise with an objective, should see this an opportunity to make real change in an ever-evolving society.

      Knowledge is the sword of the future, and the wars will be waged in the ethernet.

      Exciting and a little scary.

      Good article overall.

    12. DevNull says:

      Dan, great article!

      I have been going over several of same ideas on my own. Your list of key success factor is well done. It has really been amazing to see this movement gain support so quickly. I would like to know in more detail your opinions on how this tech driven movement will differ from more traditional means. Do you think it will be more successful or will it die out quickly?

      You seems to breeze over the digital communications aspect fairly quickly. Have you spent any time in the communities to see how they differ and how they communicate between each other? For example, the enturbulation forums were started from a member of the Something Awful forums. Each set of forums has a slightly different perspective on the movement, and different membership. While there is cross posting, there is also a level of independence. Do you think this level of disconnection help combat things such as group think?

      I hope to see you explore these issues more. I will certainly check back to see if you take it further.

    13. Anon256 says:

      I think the level of disconnection is important because it allows for a movement to continue on if one of the primary information sources is taken out as in partyvan(heavy traffic), Youtube (active censorship).

      The other important thing to notice about disconnection is that it is not necessarily a means to do anything, but rather the result of a large group of individuals from different backgrounds acting on what they CAN and willing to do.

    14. anonymous says:

      we thank you for spreading the story of our protest. scientology is an evil thing that must be stoped. http://whyaretheydead.net http://www.xenu.net http://www.youfoundthecard.com

      we are anonymous
      anonymous is legion
      anonymous does not forgive
      anonymous does not forget
      expect us.

      beware the ides of march!


    15. DevNull says:


      I agree with the benefits of having a decentralized information source. However, there are costs to an organization that is so open. For example, the San Francisco protest seems to be heavy on the Xenu story and cost to join scientology. Other protests seemed to focus on the human right abuses and tax abuses. I think it would be better for the protests if they were more uniform in what they targeted. This happened to an extent with Mark Bunker responding to Anon. His was a centralized message that really gave focus to the protests. This centralized message deviated from the rest of the Anon tactics, but was an essential part of the protests’ success.

      I want to make it clear that I absolutely want to see scientology fall. I am just interested in the weaknesses of a technology backed movement in order to mitigate them. By realizing and understanding the weaknesses, we can address them.

    16. Dan Schultz says:

      First — I am amazed at how fast you guys/girls found this post; not because I underestimate the Internet (although I guess I did, hence my amazement), but because this is such a niche blog! Thanks for participating in the conversation (and also for not taking it over! :) ).

      Roland, thanks for putting that out there, I didn’t know how to bring it up. Your observation sounds like it fleshes out the first “success point” — the CoS became a community issue. You’re explaining why — from what you say it sounds like the CoS thing moved you guys because it resonated so well and it matched/didn’t match with the ideals that you identify with.
      For a Digital Media person to take your point and use it to develop better communication tools (for any community), I guess I would say that just involves letting the community be a community. The members know (either consciously or subconsciously) what their values are, and the resonance will happen naturally if the issue warrants it.

      DevNull, those are really great questions, both of which deserve posts to their own in order to answer well. I’ll add those topics to my list of things to think about and will definitely make a post if I can develop some concrete ideas.

      I’ll give a small (initial) answer to your second question here though: I have been watching the Enturbulation forums but I am not familiar with SA directly (I’ve heard of it, but haven’t actually visited). Although Anon256’s response took your question in a more ‘technical’ direction that is specific to this particular event, I interpret it to be more general/social (hopefully I didn’t misunderstand).

      The concept of cross pollination between and within communities (be they digital or physical) is something that has been on my radar for a little while and I think it is extremely important. You gave a very interesting reason – because it can help combating group think by providing a well defined “section” of thought (i.e. each forum has slightly different perspective, and that is embodied in the fact that they are literally different forums). Another reason is that it brings multiple view points to new eyes through cross posting. This means more information, more unique perspectives, and a more effective understanding of what is going on and what to do.

      short answer – yes.
      medium answer – see above.
      longer answer – hopefully will show up on the IdeaLab in a post of its own:)

    17. /dev/zero says:

      Dan – very good stuff, even if it’s not “reporting”. This is the future
      of grass roots movements, the future of the voice of the people,
      the future of politics and elections. There is more, no doubt. We are
      witnessing the real power of networks, human, digital or otherwise. In a world where conventional reporting media shapes stories, selects information and ultimately rewrites history there would have had to come a time when people are not only as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but they are going to take matters into their own hands.
      This is the harbinger. Youtube can censor now, but soon enough, the next set of juggernauts will be online and perhaps understand that they are a conduit for free speech, not a judge and jury of the American Constitution. From what I see, this is inevitable, unstoppable, and non negotiable.

    18. RandomAnon says:

      Hi Dan, I am so glad you’ve put this article together. I’ve seen others try to touch on this, but so far, not as cohesively as you have. I had taken an avid interest in the activities of the CoS when I was visiting London last year and heard people discussing their concerns about all the property that they had been purchasing and leaving largely unoccupied. They were creeped out by it so it sure triggered my curiosity about this “religion” that had always just existed in my mind as L.Ron’s social experiment gone haywire. The more I learned about it, the more sinister I found it to be – much like what Anonymous is finding. I’ve been watching things develop since. I have watched certain members with the more identifiable monikers grow in knowledge at a staggering pace over the past month and am amazed at how much research these people are doing. We’ve got people studying the use of NLP techniques in the CoS’ “training,” to attempting to decipher the CoS/IRS legal agreement looking for ways to fight it. I have watched the mentality shifts from the feedback they are receiving and from engaging in discussion and debate with CoS supporters. Anonymous shows concern and understanding sprinkled with generous helpings of wise-cracks and lulz.

      I thought one Anonymous member said it best when he said:
      “The originators of this movement are a bunch of satirists with an affinity for cats that speak in broken english (lolcats), but that should not suggest that people with these characteristics do not have a valid opinion, or that it would somehow be morally wrong to support them.”

      I am absolutely riveted and I find it difficult to tear myself away from watching as this progresses. I find it to be a fascinating little cultural phenomenon and I’m getting lots of lulz out of it too.

    19. Anon808 says:

      Aloha Dan,

      You’ve hit on the aspect that makes this so interesting to me and many others. Protest is nothing new. For that matter, leaderless resistance (wiki that for interesting reading) is nothing new. But the use of the internet, especially niche services where the content is generated by users, is new. Apparently, it’s as effective as other means, if not more. Quite the ride!

    20. There is not the least doubt that scientology is dangerous. Just see what the COURTS and JUDGES hace said of its methods,
      one of those quotes:
      and many others:
      Kenneth Robinson, British Minister of Health:

      “The government is satisfied that Scientology is socially harmful. It alienates members of families from each other and attributes squalid and disgraceful motives to all who oppose it; its authoritarian principles and practice are a potential menace to the personality and well being of those so deluded as to become followers; above all, its methods can be a serious danger to the health of those who submit to them… There is no power under existing law to prohibit the practice of Scientology; but the government has concluded that it is so objectionable that it would be right to take all steps within its power to curb its growth.”

    21. Paul Lamb says:

      Dan: Great post and some well deserved commentary and follow up!

      Couple of add-on thoughts…

      What makes this stuff have legs, IMHO, is
      1) because Scientology is a hot-button issues that attracts attention and
      2) It evolved as an “anti-campaign” – in other words it wasn’t contrived and splashy and people picked up on that.

      I track and am involved in various campaigns to leverage all the latest Web 2.0 tools and I find the biggest challenge is not so much how to use the tools, as it is how do we identify an issue that will cause people to WANT to move it on their own. I think most people get too caught up in trying to discover which tools work, and don’t spend enough time thinking about the relevance, appeal and emotional attachment of their issue.

    22. Dan Schultz says:

      Hey Paul,
      What about tools that help you discover those issues? I mentioned in a comment (somewhere up there… I guess there are a lot of them!) That I think the best way to help communities find issues “just involves letting the community be a community. The members know (either consciously or subconsciously) what their values are, and the resonance will happen naturally if the issue warrants it.”

      What do you think about that – is there more that needs to be done to facilitate that issue identification process? Also, do you think the individuals of the community can do a good enough job at bringing up issues?

    23. Anonymous says:

      Dan Schultz, your article is wonderful and I am glad to see someone is taking an academic interest in Anon!
      I would like to propose an additional reason why this movement became successful: the use of shibboleths as a method of identification, especially in IRC. As a member of a community such as 4chan or Something Awful, shared experiences between the community spawn injokes, which in turn become a sort of private language. While Anon had no designated leaders, it was extremely useful to have flags to determine who was trustworthy. Someone who had been involved in an internet community for a long time was more likely to not be a Scientologist plant and more likely to have stumbled upon the group.
      Inside jokes were extremely effective during this time. People who could respond correctly to the question “So I herd yu liek Mudkipz”, know how to react to the personal attacks that would be horribly rude in real life but pedestrian online, or otherwise display a familiarity with the language of the group were more likely to gain acceptance and direction.
      With the rise of Enturbulation and vaster community outreach, this has somewhat become a thing of the past, but if you read posts, you can still find a hyperlinguistic mindset in certain Anon members. Often, plants are accused based on not what they speak, but how.

      tl;dr: Familiarity with such concepts as tl;dr formed an ad-hoc method of anon identification.

    24. Actually Anonymous came rather late to the party. The ARSCC was working to dismantle Scientology for its crimes and abuses something like 13 years prior to Anonymous.

      Do a google on the words “sporgery scientology” and see what I and many others were involved with when Scientology first started trying to deny people’s rights on the Internet.

    25. Halcyon and on anon says:

      Fredric – nooone is saying that an anti-Scientology movement is something new and so 2.0, perpetrated entirely by Anonymous. Anonymous acknowledges that without the help of long-term activists such as Arnie Lerma, Mark Bunker and the lovely Tory Magoo, who knows whether Project Chanology would even be happening. They in turn have acknowledged the impact that over 9,000 protesters can have. It’s not quite symbiosis as Anonymous does whatever Anonymous wants, but it’s a fairly healthy relationship. I was at the London raid and was really moved seeing Bonnie Woods and her husband there, and they were amazed and happy to see so many protesting against something that ruined their lives (a short interview with them is available in one of the London videos on YouTube).

    26. Edo River says:

      Dan, Since I found you, I’ve book marked your site on my toolbar. The general topic is something I am very interested in applying to the small community I live in here in Japan.

      Regarding the topic: CoS. I have a bad and somewhat fearful taste in my mouth from my contact with them I used to live in a nearby neighborhood to their blue, lit-up-at-night, used-to-be hospital old headquarters on North Vermont in LA? I wonder if its still in use?
      I was sort of friends with a woman until she joined, she ended the friendship, but we would occasionally meet and talk. A little scary, and sad story. Well reminds me of NRA.

    27. anonymous says:

      Anonymous March 15th 2008 Reminder

    28. anonv2.0 says:

      Sorry for the tl;dr, but many thoughts here.

      The article is very basic in it’s covering of the origins of the movement, however plenty of extra info has been given by those commenting.

      Personally I had never been part of the chans b/tard environment although I was aware, I’ll read anything:). But I’ve long held a bad taste in my mouth for the tactics of $cientology. Thus when I saw the movement moving beyond DoSS into something else (thanks WBM) I immediately jumped on board.

      Anonymous is a very diverse collective of humans from all walks of life, all religions, and all races who have individually decided to act as one against the crimes of $cientology. I was initially flabbergasted by speed with which the community informed itself by sharing information, and the tremendous talent and intellect of the individual. But no more. The Internet is home for the “geeks”, “nerds”, artists, and intellects of the world. It should amaze no one that when joined as a collective only sheer brilliance would be the outcome. I am constantly being wowed by the resourcefulness and creativeness I see every day within Anonymous. Because the target is clearly the illegal and inhuman practices of the Cult of $cientology, the cult’s resistance is futile. Truth and knowledge will always trump suppressive acts and threats.

      What I notice among the main stream media and those in fields such as the author’s, is the inability to comprehend the word Leaderless. I visualize the reporters as balls in a pinball machine rushing about trying to find some way to quantify Anonymous, find a leader, find SOMEONE to explain it all to them. “THEY DID WHAT? They must have a leader”, “What they are doing is not possible”, blah blah blah. That is also the major downfall of the $cientology response. Reporters are ignoring the intense influence of TRUTH, and right thought combined with a call to action that is answered by individuals acting on their own accord and consciousness. The movement is serious and light at the same time, and it is, for ME, intensely spiritual. As a non religious person I find the combined efforts of a world-wide collective against something as sinister and damaging as the CO$ to be spiritually uplifting. It is as if, finally, truth and justice DOES have a chance. That people can really make a difference.

      What next? Who knows. But I for one will not be so willing to abandon the satisfaction that I receive from knowing that not only am I acting for the good of others, I am joined by idea, to thousands around the world. It is empowering.

      To try to harness the energy behind Anonymous into some means of exploiting the WAY we do business INTO a business concept is simply not going to work. I have seen other media trying to figure out “How can we use this in marketing? What is it that they are doing that we can harness and exploit?” I say more power to you all for trying, but within Anonymous itself, it will inherently fail because we are not “harnessable” (we have no leaders and we are not your personal army) and since it is the individual acting collectively, any plan to attempt to “direct” a collective anywhere will be immediately marked as FAIL. Perhaps it will work with Soccer Moms ect. but it can never work in what is currently known as Anonymous.

    29. anonymous internet says:

      i like your articles but times have changed, are changing. they are kind of tl;dr to me but you acknowledge that so its not a fault, thank you. the discourse of anonymous is of a different sort, than the discourse of your articles. I’m very tempted to say it’s beyond deconstruction but I haven’t decided that for myself yet.

      this something of a fairly large scale. keep in mind that so far anonymous has only worked against something. likely it will be that way for a while: as somebody joked that this will bring together northern ireland and the roi; anonymous currently relies heavily on the cliche “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”

      and when theres a “critical mass” all your base belong to us lol. ps. from what I heard this all started because somebody on 711 wanted to ddos cos for his birthday

    30. Dan Schultz says:

      anon 2.0 and anonymous internet — thank you much for the comments. I want to stress one thing in response to anon 2.0 since I think there may be a slight misconception of my intent in writing these articles.

      First, I know that Anonymous is leaderless :)

      Second and more importantly, I did not mean to imply that I wanted (or thought it would be possible for) the media industry to “harness” Anonymous or artificially recreate it — I’m not a guy in an office somewhere, I’m a student; I’m from the Internet too!

      What I’m saying is that Anonymous is a community of individuals. Communities exist in the world naturally — physical communities in particular, which is a major focus point for the writers on this blog. Those communities do have individuals of many creeds. Those communities do have issues that are important to the collective. Those communities are essentially/generally leaderless. It has been said that Anonymous is everyone, and I guess that’s something I am agreeing with and taking a step further.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if those COMMUNITIES (i.e. the collective of individuals, not the media or the corporation or whatever else you want to call it) could naturally do what Anonymous did about something _they_ care about?

      Assuming it would be nice… well that’s what these posts are about when you get to their core — why was Anonymous successful at this type of thing while physical communities aren’t?

      I tried to look at what might have been a reason for success and largely cite the fact that p-communities don’t utilize the kinds of digital communication tools that you guys have. This is where (for instance) local newspapers, which are desparately trying to find their place on the internet, could fill a role. Not for ?????? profit, but instead to get back to the public service that they were supposed to be providing in the first place – an outlet for community voice and an amplification of community issues.

      Sure it isn’t as easy as just setting up those tools — I think I said that somewhere — and the situation isn’t simple enough to just deconstruct the whole thing in two blog posts… but, like you point out, the comments and discussion are where the fun is!

    31. Anonymous says:

      Thank you for your article about Anonymous’ continued efforts to make public the criminal happenings behind the closed doors of Scientology’s churches around the world. Criminal behavior is, quite literally, indoctrinated to the brainwashed members through written text. The utter and complete “destruction” of any who openly and vocally oppose the tax-exempt institution, which charges in excess of $300,000 for one’s “salvation” is also encouraged. Education is the best tool. Everyone should look up the following:

      Operation Snow White (in which Scientology members systematically tampered with any and all government documents which might cast a negative light on founder L. Ron Hubbard or the organization as a whole.)

      Operation Freak Out (in which Scientology employs scare tactics in order to 1: silence critics through litigation and threats of physical violence against not only their detractors, but also the friends and family of their detractors and 2: portray themselves as victims of hate crimes by forging threatening letters and making false reports of bomb threats and the like.)

      Also, one should search reports over Lisa McPherson. I don’t need to explain that one. I think we all know who Lisa is. And if you don’t know, it’s high time you learned.

      Thank you for your time.

    32. hbone says:

      Since Anonymous geek/geekette groupniks so strenuously champion helpful??? psychiatric drugging (which is probably the only real purpose they have been formed) I would not be surprised if they turned out to be a well-funded welfare project of the pharmaceutical/psychiatric industry, like the non-profit mental help support groups that claim not to be industry funded but totally tow the industry hook, line and sinker.

    33. Anonymous says:

      hbone: We can tell you are a Scientologist. I have yet to see Anon “champion” anything but anti-CoS stuff, cats, and hentai. We aren’t funded by [i]anything[/i] but ourselves, thank you.

      This article is pretty accurate. One thing I would like to point out is that some anon’s – not that many to my knowledge but enough to where I’ve seen it – have been complaining that the protests are going to bring an influx of new and uninitiated people into the group, who will eventually turn the websites (4chan etc) into stinking masses of fail. Mostly because they don’t lurk enough to get the vibe of the group.

      I’m not sure about that but since I’m almost one of those people (I generally don’t post on the chans) I imagine I can’t really say.

    34. larry says:

      To “A” person above: Who cares? You really got that right about “I can’t really say.”

    35. hbone says:

      A recent post re this issue:

      Recently I’ve been seeing these articles about a “group” called Anonymous. And it got me thinking. Who would want to call themselves anonymous leave no traces and just destroy the lives of others “for fun” what fun. The last person I knew who thought that was fun was in Germany and that was in the 1940s.

    36. Dan Schultz says:

      ohhh boy;) hbone while I appreciate your interest in this post I would rather avoid making any type of comparison to nazi germany… obviously nobody is dying and I would go so far as to say that nobody’s life is being ruined by Anonymous as far as I can tell…

      At any rate, that isn’t the point of this post or the blog so with all due respect hbone, please take that conversation elsewhere:/

      The previous Anonymous does bring up an interesting point though which is probably worth looking at some time. I talk about using digital tools to facilitate physical community and community activism, but by doing this you potentially open up a previously closed community to the world. I have a feeling that wouldn’t be a problem for most small communities unless one of their local issue/movement had some sort of national/global scope and people around the world got on board.

      At any rate, it is an interesting extra dynamic to the Anonymous case and something to consider when thinking about digital activism and digital facilitation of physical community.

    37. hbone says:

      Okay, I totally get your point on violence. But there have been threats of violence that members of the group claim have been made by people not members of the group and there was a manfesto that was not exactly a paragon of nonviolence that members of the group say was not made by the group. One group member says one thing and another denys that anything like that was said or done. How do you know what is true and what isn’t and how could you verify any of it? The whole concept of anonymous makes any criticism of anything totally pointless and useless because what could be done? It’s a kind of digital nihilism or digital existentialism. Maybe you or I can sign a post and stand behind what we say. They can’t for whatever reason. I wouldn’t call it digital activism, I would call it digital pointlessism, like spam or spyware or junkmail. It comes from somewhere but what does it ultimately amount to. Nothing.

    38. Anonchick says:

      Great article Dan.

      Hbone: It is very clear you are a scientologist, I am sure you received an email campaign from the co$ demanding you defend the cult – this is standard practice of the co$ and it highlights an interesting point.

      Forceful use of digital (or any other) means to call to action does not succeed, because they are not fuelled by care, passion and conviction.

      Anon works because it is a group of individuals who care about a cause, and it is fuelled by the passion for the cause. Trying to replicate the anonymous movement for any sort of marketing will as someone said above FAIL because it is simply doing so for the mighty $ – just how $cientology works, and the exact reason it is not working, it was invented for $, and it exists for $ only – Everything is modelled around maximum compliance for the greater financial gain of the cult.

    39. Anonymous says:

      Great article.

      “Assuming it would be nice… well that’s what these posts are about when you get to their core — why was Anonymous successful at this type of thing while physical communities aren’t?”

      One main reason is that the Church of Scientology’s abuses are so numerous and varied that their opposition cannot be pigeonholed into any one ideology. People who identify themselves as Christians, atheists, liberals, Republicans, Americans, Russians, nerds, hippies, and lawyers all have different bones to pick with Scientology, and so it’s relatively easier to muster support against it than any one government institution.

      The deadpan, authoritarian, hierarchical, litigious, and secretive nature of the Church of Scientology also seems to be the direct opposite of a collective whose culture is built on satirical humour, is anarchic, grassroots, and faceless, yet open-source. It all seems so fitting in a deterministic, evolutionary sense: Anonymous waged war on Scientology because it could; because after the Old Guard of critics and the ARS Central Committee, it knew that this was the next logical step.

      And also, because in a physical community everyone has a name, a face, and is thus perceived very differently than the unknown source of a digital posting.

      In real life, if your opinions are mocked or your suggestions are rejected, it’s hard not to take it personally, and it’s also natural to want to take credit for all your good ideas.

      But when your words and criticisms of others’ statements cannot be traced back to any one source (as on the *chans, IRC, wikis, or through anonymous YouTube videos), users form one mass consciousness (in this case, “Anonymous”) that changes as messages are posted and people come and go, where political correctness is non-existent, and good ideas seem to spread like wildfire while poor ideas are countered with reason or simply ignored.

      Other avenues, like SomethingAwful, Facebook, Enturbulation.org, and alt.religion.scientology (even with its lack of moderation) are more focused and less outright vulgar than 4chan’s /b/, because everyone there has an identity and thus some sense of online accountability, but that also leads to greater infighting, reluctance of members to express unpopular opinions, and witch hunts for enemy infiltrators. This is why such a large, leaderless movement, against an evil that is not and doesn’t affect the mainstream (as eight years of President Bush did the Ron Paul campaign) could not have arisen on a standard forum.

    40. Anonymous says:

      Couple points :

      Scientology is a select target that has spent years harassing and angering Anonymous run communities. This corporation has long treated the Internet as its own little land of frivolous lawsuits and has had this coming for a long time. This corporation is now in full on damage control trying to play a victim to the anonymous masses of hate speech that hide on the Internet, when in all reality that has always been the corporation’s stance toward the Internet and people on it all the way back to alt.religion.scientology BBS. They’re just angry the real owners of the Internet have arrived and are harassing them back 10 fold on the streets where the general public can be informed and brought into the mix.

      Second, you really can’t understand the structure or raw cognitive dissonance of anonymous without participating in a few of the communities. The wikis, older huge forums, image forums, BTcommunities, IRC channels, etc all have a structure that guides elements of the whole. There are elements of anonymous that only Digg selected stories, fill the live journal community with news, flood wikipedia and wikinews with anonymous memes, flood faceboook and myspace with Anonymous propaganda, and intentionally buy low end advertising millions of times over to anonymous projects. The ‘blogosphere’ has very limited scope of what Anonymous is and does… only reporting on the older, well formed, communities that existed when blogging was a huge joke mocked by the original domain owners in the Web 1.0 world. Some would say it still is a huge joke manipulated by large communities to flood Google and larger channels, and to that end I agree.

      Finally, Anonymous is not one group, or even a cohesive Internet community that agrees. Several elements are beyond livid the “Internet hate machine” has been hijacked and is being used for altruistic purposes. Several elements work against the Scientology efforts because they hate the thought of Anonymous turning into a personal army whenever Internet vigilantes are called upon. Most want to go back to the good old days when it was all in good fun to raid the social communities… but the trendy cool ‘Anonymous’ flags and propaganda can stay. That stuff rawks.

      Anonymous is nothing more than a current incarnation of Internet culture, organized by the webmasters of old and to some extent new, and directed by grudges long held. Anonymous always acts in its own best interest, and that interest is by and large protecting Anonymous and the communities where Anonymous lurks. Scientology poked a hive of over 9000 bees 10 years ago when they attacked SomethingAwful. Since then as the Internet has spread everybody still remembers Scientology. Anonymous now controls an appropriate size and wealth of resources, and with these new found tools Scientology is getting what it deserves.

      As will the next that break the rules of the Internet.

    41. Anonymous says:

      The people responding with anything more than ‘Anonymous’ in their names aren’t anonymous, even if they choose to speak for Anonymous as if they are anonymous.

      Figure that out.

    42. Mark says:

      Yes, what can we learn from this. Well lets see. There’s religious bigotry. There’s misinformation
      & media manipulation. Qui bono? Qui might bono? The masks say it all. Where there isn’t any responsibility, there isn’t any credibility. Who better than an ANONYMOUS entity to make unsubstantiated claims & ridiculous parallels. & these are just the broader, public & systemic issues. On the personal level, when was the last instance you sought approval for your beliefs. Did you check the internet before your wedding? How about checking your social networks administers opinion about the leader of your church.
      Or how about the person you haven’t seen in your church for a while. Did you make a missing persons report & assume they have been “disappeared”.
      I can answer all these questions for you, NO because you didn’t ask my permission. Had you, I would have laughed. Which is my response to masked, anonymous, whiners.

      I don’t want, seek or need your approval. This was assured more than 250 years ago.
      We have many more important issues these “effective(ly) targeted communication tools” could be used for.
      But no, we’re wasting them on whether or not some religious bigots feel “validated” or “liked”.

    43. Anonymous says:

      Hello there Dan, one thing you may not understand about us, is our drive.

      We all crave one thing, the lulz. That which produces the highest amount of said lulz will be where our efforts go into. Any real anon will fight for the death for the lulz and the creation of more lulz.

      We are a hive minded organization that can be described as chaotic neutral.

      In lulz we trust.

    44. Anon says:

      Censorship on youtube is everyday occurance for a variety of topics not just this however Anon’s home is under attack and shut down daily. Do not anger anon for we are many

    45. Amanda LaVelle says:

      Scientology has a big reputation for being bogus. Ever since the crazy celebrities dug their fingers into the religion, scientology has grown exponentially throughout the past couple of years. Now an unknown group of people named Anonymous has finally called out the religion. Not only did they degrade and insult all scientologists, they went to the Scientology website, http://www.xenu.net, and overloaded the site with information so that no other potential users could access the site. This brings up the point that people who are very knowledgeable with computers and the internet can use that skill or power to start “fights” or “wars”. Gangs have even held company websites for ransom via the internet. This should make us think more about the security of open system websites and how we can protect organizations free speech rights on the internet .

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