As described last week, Anonymous undertook a political mobilization to protest on 5th November 2012, notably against current austerity policies and destruction of public service. Here is what happened yesterday evening, as a result, in a few pictures, tweets and charts.
Re-enacting V for Vendetta final scene in London
In London, the protest started on Trafalgar Square and walked until Parliament Square, as planned.
By comparison, the protest organised in Washington DC, for example, was much less successful, according to recorded livestream (by USTREAM), which, considering the specific day chosen – typically linked to English history – and different circumstances in the two countries, may not be surprising.
#OpVendetta and Analytics
Meanwhile, what happened on social networks, or more specifically on twitter?
The number of tweets, using Kred and the related analytics by PeopleBrowsr (the analytics are, by the way, extremely useful, easy to use and beautifully displayed) skyrocketed. Using as simple query #OpVendetta, you have the results below, counting 27660 Tweets for November 2012 and 21033 Retweets, most of them on 5 November 2012, with a rather positive sentiment. The location of the tweets is also interesting, with a strong participation in the UK and the US (see also the US share according to States), in Commonwealth countries and in Europe.
Was it a success and what to expect next?
I would assess that the operation was successful as it succeeded in moving from hacktivism mainly to a political protest in the real world, when it is so difficult to mobilise people. It also got coverage outside the cyber security world, notably on RT, according to the latter editorial line.
Is it enough to obtain the changes that were demanded, certainly not. However, history teaches us that political mobilization takes time and that obtaining political change is even harder. Thus, considering the overall grim outlook, my assessment is that the movement must be followed and is most likely to grow and to play an increasingly important part on the political scene.
On 5th November 2012, Anonymous plans to re-enact the final scene of the film V for Vendetta in London. The protest could also spread to other European capitals and to North America (Steve Huff on Betabeat, 02/10/2012). Two operations, the action mode of Anonymous, #OpVendetta and #OpJubilee, “partner” to mobilize and organise this protest action.
Those operations, the mobilization efforts made, as well as the messages, show an interesting evolution of Anonymous in terms of political dynamics. Anonymous has registered important success over the past year such as participation in the winning action against SOPA, or its fight against paedophilia on the web (Paganini, Security Affairs, 11/07/2012). It has continued hacktivism, while supporting Occupy and other protests movements in Europe. Yet, the amorphous nature of Anonymous as an idea, its classical means of action on the web, could let observers wonder if all this is sufficient to make of them a political force in the real world, one that has the power to bring about change, thus one that has might (etymology: to be able).
Now, to mobilize for a political real world protest, Anonymous uses all the means at its disposal and experience acquired on the Web, as well as in the real world, for example when it spurred protests against Scientology with OpChanology, in a way that seems to be powerful politically.
First, the content of the demand, the why mobilization is needed and change must be achieved is clear. Reasons complement each other for the two operations, with slight differences.
#OpVendetta starts first its video by explaining what Anonymous is, showing, compared with usual Anonymous videos, an effort at explaining what is the movement to a larger public. There, they notably struggle against a negative image that could have developed linked to the fact they are usually labelled as hackers and threats.
Its protest intends to show displeasure at the situation in the UK and the policy of the government, to achieve the end of the denounced situation: “Join 1000′s of like-minded freedom fighters under the banner of Anonymous UK and the Novemberist Resistance Movement as we show our weak and corrupt government that we are not pleased. Our Army, Police, Doctors / Nurses, Teachers and Workers have been let down; sold out to the bankers. You have to work longer hours, for many more years and your pensions have been squandered! Now rise up like Lions from your slumber and join with us. This day will go down in history across the world as V-day.” (Youtube text)
Both, thus, build upon the financial and economic crisis, and especially on the policies of austerity, including the strong reduction of public spending and thus services to reduce public debt. They are more likely to be heard because the austerity and downsizing of the state touch people in their everyday lives (Harper, 2001). Those are very concrete real issues for most citizens, for the 99% to use the label created by Occupy. #OpJubilee goes a bit further, as it suggests clear solutions, which can be easily adopted and fought for, while #OpVendetta “only” wants to force the government to change its policies, the how being left to the elected MPs.
Second, #OpJubilee has been using hacking, besides defacing of websites, forums and portals, to advertise the forthcoming protest, send invitations and recruit supporters, notably among the UK Metropolitan police forces, as reported by Mohit Kumar, The Hacker News, 24/10/2012 & 26/10/2012. In so doing, they try to enlist support or at least a neutral attitude from part of the monopoly of violence of the state.
“A message to the police and armed forces”.
Message body: “Hello members of our UK police and armed forces” … “stand with us, not against us. Under your uniform you are one of us and we are you. United we stand and can make this world a better place for all of us. We are not against you, only against the evil system that you defend, and we appeal to your consciences to stop protecting the traitors and banksters, and protect us from them instead… Brothers in arms, join us and end wars and poverty. United we stand.” (Kumar, 24/10/2012)
Finally, the form of the protest itself, reconstituting the final scene of the cult film V for Vendetta, is both ambitious and grandiose. It is thus likely to inspire people in a world that is most of the time bleak, offering neither hope nor ideals. It revives the inspirational and charismatic part of political leadership, re-imagined for the 21st century.
Will the operations be successful? It is difficult to estimate, all the more so with a meme such as Anonymous. The traffic figures found on the related Facebook pages (FB OpVendetta 4696 indicating intention to go), Youtube (4898 views for #OpVendetta and 11304 for #OpJubilee), or in terms of Twitter followers (153 for @OpJubilee and 480 for @opVendetta2012, accounts created specifically for the event) would tend to indicate a relatively small participation. However, most Anonymous related accounts seem to be supporting the event, especially through #OpVendetta, and the overall trends on twitter are rising, with a drop related to the focus on Sandy, as shown on the graphic below realised thanks to Viral Analytics from PeopleBrowsr. As there are still, to date, six days to go, in those volatile times, everything is possible.
Whatever happens on the 5th of November, Anonymous will have learned from the mobilization and moved towards integrating further virtual and real life for political action.
T. N. Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya, Cambridge University Press, Apr 9, 2001.
Anonymous, the Anonymous movement, idea or “Internet meme,” to use Wikipedia characterisation, has become an increasingly important actor on the global political scene, which cannot be ignored anymore.
On the contrary, for Anonymous participants (Anons), Anonymous is indeed “an idea,” (AP citing twitter) ”the will of the people” (CNET interview). Accordingly, Anonymous creates strong reactions on a large spectrum ranging from sympathy and admiration to fear and dislike according to a recent ongoing internet polls done by SodaHeadNews.
As time allows, I shall try to follow and document here, the evolution of Anonymous as a political actor, from a political science point of view.
Gorman, Siobhan “Alert on Hacker Power Play: U.S. Official Signals Growing Concern Over Anonymous Group’s Capabilities,” The Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2012. Accessed 5 March 2012.
Haddad, Mohammed, “Interactive timeline: Anonymous – A history of the global cyberactivist movement, from “lulz” to revolutions,” Al Jazeera, Last Modified: 19 May 2011. Accessed 5 March 2012.
Interpol, Media release, “Hackers reportedly linked to ‘Anonymous’ group targeted in global operation supported by INTERPOL,” 28 February 2012. Accessed 5 March 2012.
Keller, Greg “Interpol says suspected Anonymous hackers arrested,” Associated Press, 29 February 2012. Accessed 5 March 2012.
Mills, Elinor, “How Anonymous channels ‘the will of the people – Q&A,” February 28, 2012, CNET. Accessed 5 March 2012.