Originally published: December 9, 2011
Last updated: December 22, 2011 - 9:40am
Brookings hosted a panel about Anonymous, about hacktivism, about... the lulz. "Radical online activism is a new public-policy challenge, with groups such as Anonymous being described as everything from terrorist organizations to freedom fighters," the Institution billed it.
The speaker charged with explaining Anonymous' idiosyncrasies was Biella Coleman, an anthropologist who has been studying the group and its affiliates for months and months. This is the challenge Anonymous poses to the establishment. For those who think it is risky to wear a skinny tie, the group's argot and traditions are so alien that it's difficult to parse what the group is. I have long imagined some DC lawyers gathered around 4chan.org with looks of horror and disgust on their faces. Even Coleman, who has spent massive amounts of time embedded among Anonymous and 4chan users, noted that the latter site was "teeming with pornography" and that many of its members communicate "in a language that seems to reduce English to a string of epithets." Which would, of course, be the point. Outsiders aren't supposed to understand.