One of the things I find most annoying about public protests is the inevitable arrival of a bunch of spotty teens wearing anonymous masks.
Much more interesting to me has been the hacktivist group Anonymous. I am interested in them as a theological foil for the church. It is a decentralised community of people. Membership is gathered, consisting simply of those who wish to join in. They seek to function without a leadership structure of any kind. They also have a very clear misison- which is a project of liberation- seeking to set data free from the shackles that the arbitrary laws intended to protect commerce impose on it.
Rather than being an “Internet hate machine” as a FOX news host once hilariously claimed, Anonymous are remarkably effective counter-balances to the very shady ways in which information-flow is monitored and controlled online. They have successfully targeted corporations, international lobby groups and in league with other groups, shut down the websites of governments. That is some pretty darn impressive organisational potency for a group without a leader.
Last week they released this video:
Now aside from the fact that they mis-spell “Anonymous” in their opening image, this is a very well made video, stating a very interesting proposition. Operation PedoChat is going to target websites that peddle child pornography, endorse it or encourage it. They are going to target websites that exist legally and those that exist illegally. They are going to release the names, email addresses and ip numbers of the users of these sites. They are currently laying siege to about 100 domains and intend to escalate their campaign. A right-wing Belgian politician has already resigned as a result of his details being published.
So a couple of thoughts. Firstly, isn’t it interesting that a group that claims to oppose censorship is now taking it upon themselves to censor?
Not really, no. Contrary to easy reporting, this level of organisation does not indicate a bunch of amoral teenaged boys seeing what they can do with their skills. Anonymous is obviously driven by people who have a very distinct and developed moral view of the world. We aren’t seeing hypocrites at work, we’re seeing a strange new kind of moral crusade reveal itself progressively (perhaps as it discovers itself).
Secondly, for all their obvious zeal for making the world a better place, Anonymous have a critical problem coming down the road that they have to overcome. Their skill and expertise give them astounding power. But their structure of anonymity renders accountability and transparency impossible. The Belgian politician implicated is already claiming that his computer was hacked and that he is innocent. This defence will become more and more credible when the inevitable breaches in discipline lead to Anonymous’ moral credibility being tarnished.
This is fundamentally a vigilante movement and all vigilante movements have to deal with the fact that they have no authority. But the peculiar asymmetry between their personal hiddeness and their very evident public mastery of technology means that this authority question is going to become acute.
Thirdly, consider the wording of their announcement. It begins like a cyberpunk Pauline letter:
Hello Citizens of the world, We are Anonymous. Dear brothers and sisters. Now is the time to open your eyes and expose the truth!
The logic of the speech is driven by the mission to distinguish the light from the dark. It echoes nicely with 1 John. And then at the end it signs off with an unmistakable Biblical reference:
We are anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive
We do not forget
As Wife-Unit put it to me, this kind of language isn’t accidental. Anonymous are remixing the church. They are much bolder than Christianity and they are much more proficient than Christianity!
Those final two sentences however, “We do not forgive” and “We do not forget” constitute a combined rejection of the Gospel. Anonymous aren’t the Anti-Christ but they are perhaps the Anti-Volf, which is almost as bad! They are a decentralised movement that is perceived as a potent threat to liberal civilization. They are organised for social activism. They utilise the media to get their message across but stand in an ambiguous tension towards the media. They have a clear moral vision and a sense of having a mission. They are a virtual church.
Albeit a church without sacraments, without text and without any words of hope. They expose paedophiles. The church ministers to paedophiles.* They don’t forgive. The church looks forward to God’s forgetting.
Your Correspondent, Isn’t quite sure of what he’s trying to say
* I use the word church here to mean the global church generally, not the Catholic church. That might be an obvious clarification but for Irish people, talking about a church “embracing” paedophiles naturally leaves us thinking of the Catholic church’s toleration of child abuse, which is definitely *not* what I am suggesting!