Anonymous Editorial, v2

Discussion in 'Translation and Text Composition Projects' started by authanon, Mar 13, 2008.

  1. authanon Member

    Anonymous Editorial, v2

    I'm a little embarassed to see that there's another thread posted before I got here where Anonymity Troll already tried to tackle this subject (haven't read his article yet). But I'm not going to let that discourage me...

    This is an article I wrote yesterday. So far, I've only shown it to my local area anons, but they gave me a favorable response and said they'd love to see it in print. If you think this is a good article and want to see it published in print media, PLEASE consider helping me with that stage, because while I think I'm a good writer I'm abysmally ignorant about publication. Someone suggested that the Wall Street Journal's editorial section was a good place for this. But anyone at all with press contacts who wants to try to help me with the legwork is more than welcome. Even just telling me who to contact would be enough. Someone mentioned that they knew the gentleman at the L.A. Times who covered Scientology, maybe he'd take this article from me.

    If you have suggestions about things you want to see changed about the article, please post about that too, I welcome all feedback.

    Warning: this is very long, that is, article-length.

    Inside Anonymous and Scientology

    I am a part of Anonymous, and as far as current news stories go, that means that I am in opposition to the abuses and practices of the Church of Scientology under L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige. I have written to tell you, as honestly and accurately as I can, what that means to me. I have written because I think news coverage of this story has been sporadic and the research performed insufficient. I do not believe that most people who have heard this news item came away feeling like they understood who Anonymous is or why Anonymous cares one iota about the Church of Scientology. I am inside Anonymous, and I have done a lot of reading and research about these events, as well as past ones. Anonymous is an almost random mass of people with no central direction, which means I am simultaneously the best qualified and the least qualified to tell you about it. I can tell you what it is like to be inside Anonymous, as a part of a social justice protest in a major city. I can also tell you what, as a grassroots movement, this news story means in the climate of our current society.

    What might surprise you is that, as an individual, I am neither strange nor particularly interesting. I am not a hacker, I am not a terrorist, and I am not a criminal—I am not even an anarchist. The Church of Scientology has called Anonymous’ members all of these things, but I can demonstrate otherwise. I am not a drunk, I have never taken drugs, and I’ve never been arrested. I am extremely ordinary, and so is my life story. It goes like this: I was born, I grew up, and then I attended university. I earned a degree, I held down a job, and then I got married. I am normal, well adjusted, well groomed—I even go to church. One thing that makes me stand out from the crowd is also that which makes me, perhaps, a little more qualified than the next Anonymous to dispense information about Anonymous vs. Scientology: I am an author, by choice of profession.

    While all these other things took place in my life, though, two other things were happening that make me part of this worldwide news story. One of them is that I have visited discussion boards using the Internet, where I talked to other people from around the globe. We talked about things we liked and didn’t like, we looked at pictures, watched videos, and consumed entertainment media together. We did all this while chattering away with each other, though we were from all different continents and did not truly know one another.

    The other thing that took place during this time is that the Church of Scientology, beginning with the early days of the Internet, developed a bad reputation online for censoring information and suppressing free speech. Internet users in general—that is, not just the Anonymous ones—have always had a chip on their shoulder about free speech, free information, and censorship. Freedom of information has been important to the Internet’s user base ever since the Internet was first invented. Now that the Internet includes most of the modern public, it is an issue that affects all of us. Scientology, in an effort to tightly control its public image, has stepped on the Internet’s toes many times before 2008, which means that this story was a long time in coming. The Church of Scientology’s recent attempt to suppress a leaked video of Tom Cruise discussing Scientology was the final straw, the one that opened the floodgates of the Internet dam.

    I want to make it clear to readers that there is really no such thing as “Anonymous”: it isn’t a real entity nor is it a specific group of people. Instead, something vague called “Anonymous” only exists because there is a style of electronic communication I like to call “anonymous posting.” The Internet is full of discussion boards where people write messages for others to read and respond to, and there is one for just about every topic imaginable. If ever you transmit a message online, in many cases you might decline to include your name or even a nickname with what you’ve written. If you choose to do this, there is a widely-used piece of Internet software that will publish such unsigned messages with the word “Anonymous” next to each one, and it does this as a way of saying “this message was submitted anonymously; the author did not identify him or herself.” Any time that you post a message to others in this way, you, too, effectively become part of the global, collective group of Anonymous people, simply because you cannot be distinguished from anyone else in the discussion, nor elsewhere in the rest of the world.

    The phenomenon of a group of people calling itself Anonymous came to be only in the last few years. These Internet users congregated on several different websites that use this community software I mentioned. In this context, anonymous posting of messages was praised for several reasons. Firstly, when you partake in a discussion and you don’t have a name, it is impossible for others to attack your credibility as a source of information. If another person posting messages disagrees with you, they can only challenge your words and ideas, because they don’t know who you are. This promotes on-topic discussion of ideas rather than attacks on persons.

    Secondly, users posting anonymously cannot be tempted to seek glory for themselves. In discussions that force all participants to remain anonymous, no one is given an opportunity to develop a reputation, “street cred,” or even really to seek praise. Personal ego is completely subordinated to message content.

    Thirdly, anonymous posting helps people feel comfortable enough to say what’s really on their minds. Things that you say and do within the group cannot follow you, because there is no persona associated with them. In other words, the other participants cannot dredge up your past posting history, previous messages that you’ve written, or things that you’ve done, because they can’t match these things with you. In keeping with this, messages do not last long on very active, fast-moving message boards; they are deleted by the software after only short while to make room for new messages. The whole experience of partaking in the discussion platform with the other users is very much “in the moment,” despite the fact that the user base has a penchant for intense, repetitive memory recall of ideas that made a lasting impression. This is the way in which older ideas persist and filter up through the waterways to the newest participants. Ideas and phrases only persist, of course, if they are solid enough to withstand the collective criticism and scrutiny of the whole group.

    There are disadvantages to “anonymous posting” communication, too. Where it promotes good discussions, it also foster a lacking sense of accountability. This is why “Anonymous” first made television news because of prank phone calls and fake bomb threats, because some segments of Anonymous sought to entertain themselves with these teenage activities. On message boards where every user must post anonymously, it is easy to obfuscate things and confuse other people by spreading misinformation or impersonating another member of the discussion. You could even pretend to be multiple people in the discussion, if you want. No one else can stop you. The content of your posts is the only thing that matters. The discussion boards are lightly policed (i.e., no illegal materials) and the users run amok with one another, entertaining each other and laughing together at anything and everything that “the group” finds funny. While all of this may sound very strange, I want to make a note of the fact that this bizarre social climate is, in fact, the community that gave rise to the global activism movement that is the focus of this news story, “Anonymous vs. Scientology.” More on that later.

    While these aspects of anonymous posting are disagreeable to an average Internet user, in a “war” with Scientology they offer even more distinct advantages. Church of Scientology critics and ex-Scientology members have repeatedly said that the Church credo when dealing with criticism is “always attack, never defend.” Anonymous posting poses a nightmare to the Church of Scientology, whose advocates find themselves unable to establish a target for their counter-offensive. Scientologists are known to attack the credibility of critics, but Anonymous has no credibility because Anonymous has no identity, which partly stymies the Church’s typical PR tactics. Likewise, Anonymous’ constant information warfare with itself is such that it can be used to misdirect Scientologist spies.

    Yes, it has definitely gone that far—we know that Scientology is spying on us. They have edited our public access webpages (all of which are quickly reverted back to their previous state). Some of their members have said threatening things in innocuous places like YouTube video comments where Anonymous have placed messages. Other Scientology spies read the public Anonymous message boards looking for useful information about the movement. These boards are one realm in which Anonymous will say things to itself that were invented as bait for the Scientologists watching us.

    I obviously cannot go into detail about which particulars Anonymous has fabricated in order to mislead Scientology’s spies, but I will say that it is working. There are members of Scientology who are still—bravely, in my opinion—remaining as a part of the Church, even though they wish to leave. These individuals routinely leak information to Anonymous about what Scientology is doing and saying about us. The most amusing shred of leaked information I’ve ever heard from these people was this: that Scientology now believes something false that we posted on our message boards as if it were true, and that they had subsequently devoted time and resources in an attempt to handle it.

    Some people in Anonymous like to claim that Anonymous includes everyone. In one sense, they are right. Anonymous “members” have little in common with one another except for their casual hobby of online, anonymous message-posting. The ranks of Anonymous include teenagers, university students, adults, doctors, nurses, musicians, computer programmers, clerks, men, women, blacks, whites, and Asians—and that’s hardly an exhaustive list. The group is so disparate and multi-faceted in its interests that no single person can be its spokesperson, just as I cannot claim to be the group’s spokesperson. Another thing that this means, by the way, is that “Anonymous” is a broad slice of the general public, which would seem to indicate that the general public disapproves of the Church of Scientology. I disagree with assertions that Anonymous includes everyone—obviously, one must have access and knowledge of a computer to participate in a computer-based community. Very poor people, who cannot afford to have a computer, and those people who are computer illiterate are obviously excluded from having ever been involved with the current Anonymous. In a metaphorical sense, however, everyone in the world is a part of what makes up Anonymous. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

    I do not know nor would I claim to know what the group is, in practice, truly bounded by. I am tempted, of course, to say that freedom of speech is important to this group of people, as it is to me, and add that they hate censorship, as I do. I would say these things, but I realize that Anonymous is never at peace with itself; its denizens are all the time arguing amongst themselves and trying to further define the reality in which they live and the values they believe in. One Anonymous may very legitimately say to another Anonymous: “Why are you wasting your time protesting Scientology? ‘We’ aren’t a social justice movement.” Neither one of the two is any less a part of Anonymous than the other.

    In other words, there are many people who call themselves “Anonymous,” but only the socially conscious ones are peacefully protesting the Church of Scientology. Moreover, even though censorship and freedom of speech are the issues that started the movement, past Church abuses uncovered by Anonymous’ research is the fuel that kept the movement going. Certainly, therefore, I feel confident saying that only justice-minded people line the ranks of the group undertaking a global campaign against the Church of Scientology. The boundaries of the group’s “membership” are very loose, as well. When I “joined” this movement, I did not take a test, sign up on a roll sheet, or do anything at all except consume a bit of electronic media and post a few messages. Anonymous never knew when or if I joined and yet I became a part of it, because I cannot be distinguished from anyone else in the world except by the contents of my messages to others. If I so wished, I could leave the movement by halting my participation and ceasing my additions to the discussion of shared values. No consequences would occur as a result. Anonymous is as Anonymous does.

    How did it all happen? As a part of Anonymous, consuming all the same electronic and news media as the rest of the group, here is what I saw: On the first days after Anonymous got the idea to issue a dramatic threat of action against the Church of Scientology, things were very much business-as-usual. The segment of Anonymous that likes to perform prank phone calls did exactly that. Anonymous computer experts clogged up the Scientology computer networks, making them un-usable. Other pranksters sent bogus faxes to Scientology fax machines. Humorous phone calls were recorded for later consumption, because, as usual, even while they were asserting the group’s shared values in the world, the mob simultaneously also sought entertainment. Likewise, network statistics were gathered so that participants in the attacks could see how much of an effect the swarm of people was having on the Church’s computer networks. The intent, whether expressed or implied, was to let the Church of Scientology know that many things that they had done, things that Anonymous did not like, had not gone unnoticed.

    I want to emphasize at this point that all of these things were done because one or more voices expressed an idea along the lines of “Scientology is encroaching on our basic rights, we should let them know that we’re not happy about it,” and everyone else discussing it agreed. If they had not agreed, no action would have been taken. No one forced any Anonymous to do anything; all participants decided what to do for themselves, and I suspect that they felt secure in the knowledge that they were not alone in their feelings or actions.

    Though these first days of mass pranking and harassment were immature and mean-spirited, I suspect that individual members of Anonymous experienced little guilt—any person who felt uncomfortable about harassing a kooky church simply did not participate. As for active participants, they would feel validated by the rest of the group, and the collective “hive mind” of Anonymous probably felt that the Church of Scientology deserved this poor treatment for its past transgressions in the realm of free speech and online censorship. Throughout all of this, I personally did nothing but sit and watch. I am not, nor have I ever been guilty of making prank phone calls, because such activities do not interest me, and neither do other mean-spirited acts. At this point, I was a part of Anonymous, but I was a quiet observer. I was not part of the “internet hate machine” that Fox News described.

    Early predictions, both within the Church of Scientology and within Anonymous itself, were that Anonymous would soon grow bored of Scientology. The upkeep of such “attacks” were almost not worth the reward. Worse, this gave attention to Scientology with the possibly of making the Church seem like a victim. All of this changed one day thanks to a single voice. A video by none other than Mark Bunker, founder of XenuTV and a long-time Scientology critic, was posted online for Anonymous to view. In it, Mark pleaded with the Internet’s denizens not to sabotage the work that he and many others had done over the years to educate the public about Scientology.

    In a surprising show of good faith, good ethics and moral steadfastness, the Internet’s users responded by ceasing hostilities towards Scientology, resuming discussion with each other about how to proceed, and altering “the game plan” into something much more socially conscious. At this point in time, it is my belief that the “internet hate machine” fell away from the pack. If the people who initially harassed the Church of Scientology felt at all strongly about the movement’s social justice cause, it fell to each of them individually to curb their tempers and alter their tactics toward Ghandi-style peaceful protests, in order to go along with Anonymous’s new majority. If some of these people simply enjoyed the pranks and harassment, that is, if they were not interested in social justice, they were free at that point to simply quit participating.

    Where that leaves “Anonymous vs. Scientology” now is that only the segment of Internet users who have heard about the cause, care about the cause, and will undertake peaceful methods for the cause, only those people remain. The Church of Scientology disputes what I am saying about the make-up of Anonymous’ peaceful activists. This is because Anonymous, being so disparate, made up of so many individuals acting on their own, were not coordinated enough in their efforts to change the movement’s tenor, such that some harassment by a few members continued after the change in tack. By now, all harassment should have ceased.

    Anonymous’ inability to police itself is obviously a drawback to its social structure. One Anonymous cannot control anything that another Anonymous does, which lends itself to a few bad apples spoiling the whole barrel. There’s only one moniker for the group to use—the lack of a moniker—so the actions of each individual get associated with the whole. As for threats of violence against the Church of Scientology (which were never carried out, and I personally believe that they were never intended to be carried out), I can’t truly speak for all of Anonymous and give an apology. However, within Anonymous, people break this rule all the time—that’s exactly how a few people gave Anonymous a bad reputation with their behavior. So, I’ll speak for the group now: Anonymous is sorry for its bad behavior. Our campaign is peaceful only, and we cannot control every person who claims affiliation with us.

    Interestingly, there is also a distinct advantage to this strange social structure that works in Anonymous’ favor. Some Scientologists, as we expected, have sought to infiltrate Anonymous’ ranks as a part of the collective discussion. The only problem with this is that Anonymous is nigh impossible to infiltrate. Good ideas gain support while bad ideas get shouted down by the throng of voices. As long as Anonymous continues to include everyone and never ceases to criticize and refine its discussion and ideas, no amount of infiltration on the part of Scientologist spies will ever amount to anything.

    In a video titled “The Road to February 10th,” the very first worldwide protest against the Church of Scientology was explained, captured, and depicted using photos, music, and film footage. This presentation had an astounding effect on me, personally. First, I realized that “Anonymous”—that is to say, a slew of random Internet users!—were the first people to stage a worldwide protest about this topic. It really happened, all over the world. Personally, I grew into adulthood very jaded and cynical about the state of global politics and social causes. I felt that society was too bloated for the political activism of my parents’ generation, and I truly did not believe that one person could make a difference. I felt that there were too many causes to fight with too little effect had while fighting them in a bureaucracy-laden society. Anonymous changed my mind. Anonymous made a believer out of me.

    First, several participants, not the least among whom was Mark Bunker, proved to me that one person can make a difference. And then, Anonymous showed me a new side to my fellow man, a compassionate, socially conscious side that was willing to take action where I had not been. I made up my mind then and there: I would join in this cause to help other people and raise public awareness. March 15, 2008 the second planned worldwide protest against the tactics and abuses of the Church of Scientology, would become the first protest I had ever attended about any topic. This issue would be the first item of concern I had ever been motivated enough to write to my congressman and senators about.

    The Church of Scientology has a canned statement that it makes to the press about Anonymous: they call Anonymous cyber-terrorists, the perpretators of bigoted, religious hate-crimes. I think it’s important that I, once again, break “the rules” and speak for Anonymous about this, echoing the voices that I’ve heard. Anonymous is in favor of freedom of religion, and we are in no way opposed to any person’s free choice to believe in the teachings of Scientology—or any other religion, for that matter. This has been said amongst Anonymous and to the public repeatedly. We wish to re-iterate: we are not protesting Scientology the religion, nor are we protesting against Scientologists. We wish Scientologists all the best. Our protest is against the Church of Scientology. Former members have revealed that the Church of Scientology does things that no citizen should want for our modern society: they destroy families, brainwash, extract money using guilt, lie, sue, defame, and harass critics. This is our topic of protest, and it is all extremely well documented.

    The early months of 2008 and this on-going news story have taught me a great deal. I’ve never seen this level of activism in my peers before. As a grassroots organization, Anonymous has exceeded expectations, far and away. Watching this as I did for several months, something very poignant sprang to mind: the social movements depicted in films such as Fight Club and V for Vendetta bear an immediate resemblance to what is really happening in the real world, right now, between Anonymous and Scientology. Anonymous, like the pit fighters and members of Operation Mayhem in Fight Club, claims “everyone and no one” among its membership. This means secretaries, TV repairmen, plumbers, hair stylists, everyone fed up with the status quo, anyone who can be organized into a movement for change. With the speed and power of modern telecommunications technology, these individual people, if they so desire, can quickly and easily align themselves together to form a much larger group of people, so that each person’s single voice serves to amplify all the other voices. Organization in this manner is a prerequisite to social change.

    Likewise, in V for Vendetta, the film’s height of action depicts a slew of masked people, all dressed identically, toppling an authoritarian, totalitarian status quo in an undercover coup d’etat. Obvious parallels between Anonymous and the masked rebels in the film are what prompt many Anonymous to identify with the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the freedom-loving protagonist. V’s masked supporters are ordinary people just like the members of Anonymous. And like Anonymous, the movie’s rebels hide their identities for protection. It is worth noting that Anonymous’ members hide their identities while engaging in campaign activities so that the Church of Scientology cannot harass them, as the Church has been accused of doing, or sue them, as they have been wont to do to others.

    What does it all mean? I would first point to the change in my attitudes toward politics and social justice as a barometer for the effect that this news story has had. If Anonymous succeeds, as it intends, in pushing the IRS to revoke Scientology’s tax-exempt status (allowed in the U.S. after many lawsuits, but ultimately denied in places like Germany and the United Kingdom), I believe that the same segment of Anonymous who championed this cause can and will go on to bigger and better things in their lives and the lives of others. What cause will they tackle next? Anonymous posting and speedy electronic communication both contribute to make grassroots movements like these possible. I am hopeful, therefore, for a better world, a world in which people champion their shared values and the lines of communication are open for all people to partake in the discussion. The continued, uncensored discussion of what we value as people living together on this earth is of utmost importance to the survival of our human spirit.

    All the best,
  2. Anon453453 Member

    Re: Anonymous Editorial, v2

    Just a note, while it is true that I will be wearing a mask tomorrow in order to protect my identity from the Church it isn't the main reason I wear a mask.

    To me the mask is simply the physical representation of the idea that is Anonymous. I wear it with pride as a part (not a member) of Anonymous.
  3. Re: Anonymous Editorial, v2

    I like this. It's a bit long and very few parts of the mainstream media will accept it because of that but it's good. Which makes me sad, quite honestly. No, scratch that, a newpaper like the LA Times would prolly run it but hardly anyone reads the paper anymore, not like THAT matters, periodicals can be accessed online. This would make a very good news site article, but a horrible script for a vid tailored to mass consumption.

    Good thing I hate the masses. I applaud you, sir. You've inspired me to make a few changes to my semi-mindless diatribe made up of pseudo-demagoguery and emotional repetition. Helped me to fill in a few gaps about Anonymous that I was not sure how to fill. I find it gratifying to note that we use some of the same language here and there, I'm not an author by any stretch of the imagination but it lets me cling to the illusion that I just might be doing something right. You've also reminded me that I need to put in something about why Anonymous members wear masks in public demonstration.

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