CHAPTER 1 - HISTORY
Only make sure that you will not regret the undertaking,
and then you need not worry about whether it will be successful
or not. (Watson, 1963, p. 65)
The Internet has made communicating, organizing, and socializing simple,
cheap, and readily accessible. With these ubiquitous tools it is not difficult
to find people with a common interest, organize in some fashion, and accomplish
tasks. At times, it turns out, it does not take much of a spark for a
large group to form quickly and seemingly from nowhere. Such groups require
little sustenance, very little organization, almost no leadership, and
very simple goals. Yet they can accomplish much more than would seem possible.
Because of the ease with which these types of groups can form, it is my
contention that they will spring up more and more. Rather than be blindsided
by such groups, it is useful to understand what they are. In this article
I examine Project Chanology, a collective action that sprang from the
Internet-based social network called Anonymous, to protest the Church
HISTORY OF ANONYMOUS
Anonymous is the name of a loose-knit social network that grew from certain
message boards on the Internet. The main web site was www.4chan.org and
the main forum on that site was the /b/ forum. There is no
sign-up on these boards, so anyone can go there and post images and messages.
The basic rules are nothing illegal and no personal private information
should be posted (/b/ forum post, 2008). The default name for a poster
is anonymous. Anonymity and free speech reign supreme on these
forums. On some forums, including /b/, there is a limit of how long posts
remain on-line, so there is no longevity unless someone chooses to copy
the files before they are automatically erased. A certain culture has
gradually built up for regular users who adopt and repeat sayings or images
from previous posts that struck a chord. The idea gradually built to give
themselves a group name, Anonymous. The only cohesion comes from a very
thin sense of community and shared memes, or internal terms or ideas.
In January 2008 a Church of Scientology in-house video was leaked to youtube.com,
a web site for hosting videos for free. On the video Tom Cruise was extolling
the virtues of Scientology, claiming that only Scientologists know what
to do if they come upon a car accident, and other statements apparently
aimed at a church audience (Aleteuk, 2008). Scientology attorneys quickly
succeeded in getting the video removed from youtube as a copyright violation.
However, other sites, such as gawker.com, also put up copies and refused
to remove it despite the Scientology attorneys' threats to take the video
down, claiming that the video was newsworthy (by September 20 the video
had been removed from gawker.com).
The Anonymous sites took notice of Scientology's attempt to stamp out
this video from public view and considered it an attack on free speech
on the Internet. On a forum in 4chan.org an anonymous poster on January
I think it's time for /b/ to do something big.
People need to understand not to f*k with /b/, and talk about nothing
for ten minutes, and expect people to give their money to an organization
that makes absolutely no f*king sense.
I'm talking about "hacking" or "taking down" the
official Scientology website.
It's time to use our resources to do something we believe is right.
It's time to do something big again, /b/.
Talk amongst one another, find a better place to plan it, and then carry
out what can and must be done.
It's time, /b/ (Landers, 2008).
Another poster declared:
Gentlemen, This is what I have been waiting for. Habbo, Fox, The G4
Newfag Flood crisis. Those were all training scenarios. This is what
we have been waiting for. This is a battle for justice. Everytime niggertits
has gone to war, it has been for our own causes. Now, gentlemen, we
are going to fight for something that is right. I say damn those of
us who advise against this fight. I say damn those of us who say this
/b/ROTHERS, OUR TIME HAS COME FOR US TO RISE AS NOT ONLY HEROES OF THE
InternetS, BUT AS ITS GUARDIANS.
/b/ROTHERS. LET THE DEMONS OF THE INTARWEBS BECOME THE ANGELS THAT SHALL
VANQUISH THE EVIL THAT DARE TURN ITS FACE TO US.
/b/ROTHERS.... MAN THE HARPOONS! (Scientology, n.d.)
Those who chose to respond to this call to action created Project Chanology,
an outgrowth of Anonymous dedicated to attacking the Church of Scientology.
The first public message from Project Chanology was a video on youtube.com
put up on January 21, 2008. This was a professional looking time-lapse
video of menacing clouds passing quickly, and a synthetic voice:
Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation;
suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have
caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into
mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those
who trust you, who call you leader, has been made clear to us. Anonymous
has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For
the good of your followers, for the good of mankind--for the laughs--we
shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church
of Scientology in its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious
opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not
prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods,
hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its
You cannot hide; we are everywhere.
We cannot die; we are forever. We're getting bigger every day--and solely
by the force of our ideas, malicious and hostile as they often are.
If you want another name for your opponent, then call us Legion, for
we are many....
Knowledge is free.
We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us (ChurchofScientology, 2008).
This video had hundreds of thousands of viewings in the first week, indicating
a huge audience, even though there had not been any media attention, and
criticism of Scientology is a relatively obscure topic. How could a video
with little media attention garner so many hits on a subject that was
Already by January 16 Scientology's web site was not accessible. The Anons,
or Anonymous members, had begun a Ddos, or Distributed Denial of Service,
attack on the site by sending multiple thousands of access requests, thus
swamping the capacity of Scientology's provider and making the site inaccessible.
Others were black faxing Scientology office fax machines with
dark pages that would take a lot of toner to print out. Others called
in fake pizza orders to Scientology offices.
On January 26 Mark Bunker, a long-time critic of Scientology and owner
of xenutv.com, posted a video to youtube.com condemning the above types
of attack on Scientology by Anonymous (Bunker, 2008). He suggested you
shouldn't do things that are illegal and warned against the more
creative but illegal actions that were being suggested on the forums against
Scientology. He suggested instead legal tactics, including that they protest
in front of the church offices. This even more obscure video got hundreds
of thousands of hits, again indicating the size of Anonymous. Almost immediately
after this, Anons, or Anonymous members, started calling Bunker Wise
Beard Man and decided his advice was correct. Most of the more questionable
methods of attack greatly diminished.
On February 10, 2008, the first protest by Project Chanology occurred
at Churches of Scientology around the world. An estimated 7000 people
appeared with V for Vendetta masks or scarves on to hide their
identity (Project Chanology, 2008). This was the first IRL
(In Real Llife) action by Anonymous. Since then there have been monthly
worldwide protests in most cities around the world where there is a Scientology
Scientology reacted with its own video on youtube.com, delineating the
actions of Anonymous before their decision to switch tactics. They claimed
the Ddos attacks lasted several days, that there were multiple harassing
phone calls to Scientology offices, obscene faxes, death threats, 50,000
obscene emails, bomb threats, gunshots, and vandalism. On January 30,
24 churches received letters with a white powder resembling anthrax.
On February 13 a video purportedly from Anonymous was posted to youtube.com,
claiming that one 5 kilogram pack of nitroglycerin will detonate
in the Churches of Scientology (anonymousexposed, 2008) Anons later
claimed to have proven that this video was in fact created by the Church
of Scientology itself (ChanologySpeaker, 2008). Adding things up, in
less than three weeks, Anonymous made or encouraged 8,139 harassing or
threatening phone calls, 3.6 million malicious emails, 141 million hits
against church web sites, 10 acts of vandalism, 22 bomb threats, and 8
death threats... (anonymousexposed, 2008). In late February Scientology
completely overhauled their web site, www.scientology.org, to videos rather
While this was the first IRL project by Anonymous, it was not the first
coordinated operation. In 2006 several Anons raided the Habbo
Hotel. Habbo, found online at www.habbo.com, is a hangout for teens.
It is a digital hotel where members create their own avatars to move around
and socialize with others in the hotel. There are personal rooms, an outside
area, and a pool. An Anon noticed that the pool was easily blocked by
an avatar so no others could go in or out of the pool. The idea was hatched
to join Habbo en masse, with identical looking avatars with black skin,
Afro hair, and a business suit. They blocked the pool, doorways, and elsewhere.
Flustered Habbo operators temporarily shut down to try to make sense of
what was happening. Anons considered this an epic win or great
success (DshaunT, 2008).
Turner, a racist commentator with his own web site, received attention
from Anonymous in 2006. They would overwhelm his phone-in program with
prank callers, Ddos attack his web site (making it inaccessible to viewers),
and posted his private information online. Turner fought back with attempted
lawsuits and posted some Anons' information online (Hal Turner, 2008).
In the end, it appears that Turner got the worst of it while Anonymous
declared another epic win.
In 2007 Chris Forcand thought he was chatting online with a 13-year-old
girl named Jessica. In fact, it was a sting operation against
Forcand by Anonymous (Chris Forcand, 2008). Partially through Anonymous'
efforts Forcand was arrested in Toronto (Man trolled, 2008).
Anonymous has continued other online activities since the inception of
Project Chanology. In September 2008 a hacker claimed to have accessed
Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's yahoo email accounts (email@example.com,
2008). He then posted the information on 4chan.org /b/ forum
for other Anons to view and utilize. This has made national news (Details
emerge, 2008), raised concern over yahoo's email security, and possibly
tainted a vice presidential candidate's chance for election. Another example
came on the Oprah Winfrey show. On a program about child safety on the
Internet, Oprah read from an email she had received on the subject. Using
the email as an example of what children are up against online, she said
the emailer warned that the pedophile group doesn't forgive, doesn't
forget, and this group has over 9000 penises, and they are all raping
children. (Oprah over, 2008) Anonymous' slogan is we do not
forgive. We do not forget. We are legion. Expect us. 9000 is a number
used within Anonymous to mean an impossibly large amount. This comes from
an anime TV program where a character is astonished at the power level
of his opponent, which is over 9000 (showatch, 2007). So while
Oprah saw the email as evidence of danger for our children, it was most
likely another successful troll, or deception, for Anonymous,
and of course someone made a humorous video on youtube.com almost immediately
Project Chanology, however, is still the sole project that has moved Anonymous
into the streets.
WHO ARE ANONYMOUS
It would be difficult to conduct a survey of Anonymous simply because
of the unstructured nature and anonymity of the group. How do you contact
Anonymous people? How would you prevent trolling, a typical part of gaining
lulz, or laughs, within the movement? Those Anons who are
a part of Project Chanology are somewhat easier to find since they protest
in public. I have been a participant observer of Project Chanology since
the first protests in February. I protested in Phoenix at most of the
monthly protests. In May I protested in Tucson, Arizona. In June and August
I protested in Denver, Colorado. In September I asked two Anons that I
had met in each location to answer a questionnaire that I then emailed
to them (Appendix A). I chose to use as informers only those that I actually
protested with and who had protested several times, assuming they are
more committed to Project Chanology and would know more. This is not a
random sampling nor a representative sampling in any way. It is mostly
a small snapshot of a few of the protesters I have met. I should say that
I know only one Anonymous person's real name. I only know them by their
nicknames. Some of them I have never seen their real faces since they
wear masks at the protests and other than online that is the only place
I have met them.
Anonymous is intentionally obscure. A list called Rules of the Internet
lists both rules number 1 and 2, do not talk about /b/, meaning
the 4chan.org forum /b/ (Appendix C). Most Anons at protests strive to
make sure that Scientology does not learn their identity. About 90% of
protesters wear the V for Vendetta mask or some disguise.
I have not asked why others do not disguise themselves.
Most of my informants are right around age 30. One is 18. I would guess
from the protests and from photos and videos taken at protests around
the world that ages range from mid-teens to twenties, with some in their
30's and a few people being age 40 to 50. Women are strongly represented,
being perhaps 25% of the Anons I have protested with. All my informants
have had some college education. The average number of years on the Internet
for them is around 14, and they average 5.1 hours per day online. Most
consider themselves to have become a part of Anonymous at the beginning
of Project Chanology in February 2008, though one says she has been a
part of Anonymous from the beginning. (Appendix A, Question
I attribute the statements that they did not consider themselves a part
of Anonymous before Project Chanology started to two things. First, the
nature of Anonymous is such that belonging or not belonging can mean reading
a certain web site or not. My informants all knew what Anonymous is and
knew the memes or insider language, but may not have seen themselves as
a direct part of it. In answer to the question How did you become
a part of Anonymous? one informant answered, I had been poking
my nose in anonymous imageboards since about 2006 but I wouldn't have
considered myself 'Anonymous.' (Appendix A, question 9) Secondly,
their attachment to Project Chanology was a mark in time when they became
a part of an Anonymous activity, which would then give them a feeling
of membership or camaraderie at least.
From my observation of protests, it seemed that almost everyone knew the
Anonymous memes or insider language perfectly well. They laughed at Rick
rolling and jokes about over 9000 while I had no idea
what they were talking about. Every protest has been a party atmosphere,
with music, inside jokes, fun costumes, and even cake. But there is also
an air of determination towards the goal of exposing the Church of Scientology
as well. Most protesters I spoke with, including my informants, were knowledgeable
about Scientology, which is surprising considering most of them just started
investigating the church in January. Their videos on youtube.com were
professionally done and accurate. Their press releases were exact and
thoughtful. The protests seemed reasonably well organized. In short, they
had the appearance of a cohesive group running a well-coordinated campaign.
There seems to be a dedicated core at each city which is perhaps 15% of
the whole. These do the organizing. The rest either come regularly
but don't interact much, or just come sporadically or maybe just once.
Again, this is hard to pin down without being able to see faces and without
keeping some kind of tabulation, of course. But attendance appears fluid
except for the core activists.
Socializing amongst Anons seems varied. At the March protest in Mountain
View, California, one protester told a reporter Most of us actually
don't know each other, we're complete strangers (DeBolt, 2008).
This is less and less true as the monthly protests go on for regulars,
most likely. Some Phoenix Anons regularly chat on IRC and go bowling and
eating together. Getting to know each other means the loss of anonymity
at least inside the group. For one of my informants this was seen as a
problem: Yes. I have received criticism from other Anons for this.
We became close friends through the force of our common goals. I believe
what we gain through the bonds of friendship make up for what [we] lose
by giving up absolute anonymity. (Appendix A, question 18)
There are certainly potential disadvantages to participating in the protests.
Anons have been followed and identified, then outed by Scientology operatives.
Gareth Cales in Los Angeles was one of the first protesters to be publicly
outed, or "namefagged," by Scientology. At the March, 2008 protest
Gareth was suddenly sandwiched between two Scientologists who each had
a sign with a photo of Gareth, his name, address and phone number, and
an arrow pointing toward him (Paradise, 2008). Many of the protesters
have also been identified and sent "cease and desist" type letters
from Scientology attorneys in a move to scare away protesters (BBG, 2008).
Of my six informants, one has received such a letter and three expressed
some fears of retaliation by Scientology (Appendix A, question 25).
With such repercussions possible, why do Anons choose to be part of Project
Chanology? My informants gave generally the same answer of gaining a sense
of doing something good. One stated that he participates for "laughs,
the feeling that I'm doing something positive for society and a sense
that I'm really helping and making a difference when people come up and
thank me for taking a stand or tell me about a relative or loved one who
just left the cult because of our activism." (Appendix A, question
24) Such responses appear in the message forums as well. When someone
reports that a Scientologist has quit, the general response is "THIS
IS WHY" (Anonshaw, 2008), meaning that the effort is worth it for
Laughs, or "lulz," are an important part of Anonymous culture.
If something can't be fun then it probably won't be done. For each protest
against Scientology there have been humorous themes. The June, 2008 theme,
for example, was "Sea Arrgh" in honor of Scientology's Sea Organization.
Protesters dressed as pirates and sang songs such as "You Are a Pirate."
Epic wins come when a project is successful in creating lulz
or fun. These are two of the many memes in Anonymous that give it some
cohesion and flavor. The memes and popular photos or graphics that are
used over and over again come from posts that became popular, phrases
or graphics from a video game, or current news. Internally the memes act
as a language and shorthand. For instance, if a person posted on 4chan.org
that Anonymous should do a certain action, the resulting posts would likely
say NYPA, which stands for Not Your Personal Army,
at which point the idea would be ignored. Vulgar terms such a fag
and nigger are regularly used, but seem so ubiquitous as to
have no particular meaning.
As can be seen by the Oprah TV program above, these memes can be used
outside the Anonymous world as an indication that some action has come
from Anonymous. Simultaneously, it can be taken completely out of context
from those who have not seen them before. For instance, a woman in Houston
found a Habbo Hotel raid reference on the fence around her apartment complex
pool. It was a graphic of a black man with his arms crossed and the phrase
pool's closed (ColdFusion 0617, 2008). This is a graphic used
by Anonymous relating to the Habbo Hotel raid. An Anon would find the
poster humorous, while this tenant found it racially threatening.
FUNCTIONAL ASPECTS OF ANONYMOUS
The Internet has provided tools to make consolidation of a group of critics
easy, cheap, and almost instantaneous. Distance and cost are no barrier
to finding like-minded people who are disgruntled and willing to take
some action. Howard Rheingold in his book on "Smart Mobs" states
that "the most profoundly transformative potential of connecting
human social proclivities to the efficiency of information technologies
is the chance to do new things together, the potential for cooperating
on scales and in ways never before possible" (Rheingold, 2002, p.
The Internet allows planning to be done privately in many ways. First,
there are so many web sites that it would be difficult for an outsider
to find where planning is being done. Some web sites provide private forums
where a password is required, so even if you knew the site that might
not give you access to deliberation. With Project Chanology, my informants
stated generally that communication was by web site forums or IRC chat
channels. When more secure messaging was needed, email or phone was used
(Appendix A, question 15). This, plus their seclusive nature, is why Project
Chanology seemed to spring up from the blue. Even if someone had been
on 4chan.org, he still would have to have gone to the /b/
folder to see the discussion about Scientology. And even THEN, /b/ messages
are only up until newer posts fill up the quota and they fall off the
Once Project Chanology started to organize, some web sites dedicated to
the project formed, including www.enturbulation.org, which has since closed.
Some local groups used myspace.com or facebook.com pages for distributing
public and private messages for those who had signed up to protest. Phoenix
uses whyweprotest.net, myspace.com, and facebook.com, as well as an active
IRC channel. Tucson, at www.yiitucson.com, and Denver, at www.coanon.org,
both have their own web sites. Some such sites have been fluid, where
they fall into disuse or a different site becomes the preferred one.
Decisions within Project Chanology are made by individuals planning their
own personal activity, or by consensus (hive-mind). Anyone
claiming leadership is shouted down instantly. In fact, Anonymous has
memes to discourage anyone from claiming leadership. Not your personal
army or NYPA is the phrase that comes up when someone tries to simply
tell others what they should be doing. If someone strays from the agreed-upon
actions, they are told to stay on target (a quote from a scene
in the original Star Wars movie).
As an example, the Toronto Anons had a small argument when one of the
organizers posted that he was quitting. He stated that:
Since the very beginning of Chanology I was working to keep the Toronto
Anons together and working by helping to create a group of like-minded
colleagues and pseudo-friends. A group of dedicated 'core' anons and
myself worked behind the scenes to clear out the /b/tards and the less
dedicated lulz-seekers, to keep the dedicated majority together and
to keep interest up. Starting in February I had hosted after-parties
for all Toronto anons, as part of this campaign to keep Toronto working.
After every monthly raid we would head to the penthouse at a nearby
hotel and party all night. It was a radical idea (25 drunk anons in
a room together, you get the idea) but it worked. It was my way of saying
thanks for everybody that was still dedicated to the cause of removing
the CoS from Canada and saving the Scientolgoists (paraphren, 2008).
In this case there was a local uproar and concern from outside Anons as
well. Anons strongly discourage such drama.
Generally, personal arguments are relegated to the Thunderdome
section of a web site, which is a sort of free-for-all area similar to
/b/ in 4chan.org, where almost anything legal goes. Since most personal
arguments are segregated in this manner as being drama, the
rest of the board seems relatively peaceful and on target
much more than alt.religion.scientology where long-time Scientology critics
have posted for years. The Toronto thread was in the main forum area briefly
but was then moved to the Thunderdome area.
The lack of hierachy in Anonymous means all voices and ideas get a hearing,
decision-making can be done quickly, and each activist can feel they have
as much contribution to planning as any other. Lack of hierarchy might
mean less efficiency, but efficiency is not the goal, effectiveness is
(Shirky, 2008). While a hierarchical organization relies on in-house specialists,
anonymous has its entire population as a talent pool and cheap or free
tools available on the Internet. Ideas can be tried and discarded with
little investment wasted (Shirky).
There is an infinite variance in the degree of involvement, since there
are no requirements nor scrutiny for compliance. An Anon can simply be
a passive viewer of the activity, a contributor to ideas or discussion,
an organizer, or an active participant in the IRL events.
In this manner, Anons can feel comfortable being involved without the
stress of obligation for any particular level of contribution. Anons can
come and go as they please for any particular cause or event. This also
means that it is difficult to predict numbers of participants for any
particular activity, but generally there is no need for that anyway. This
has caused friction, however, at certain times. At the Witchita, Kansas
protest in May some of the organizers were upset because they had set
up a grill and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for many more people than
actually showed up (nameless, 2008).
CHOOSING A TARGET
What is it about the Church of Scientology that led some within Anonymous
to come out of their self-imposed secrecy and publicly protest against
this organization? I will venture two influences Scientology's
negative online reputation, and the timing of certain media reports just
before Project Chanology began.
All my informants had heard of Scientology before Project Chanology began.
They all had negative opinions as well. I was aware it was a cult
since 1999; I knew of its sci-fi aspects and litigous nature,
but did not know of the true evil nature of the organization; A
distant family member had been Hubbard's lawyer, so I'd heard Scientology's
a bad thing... (Appendix A, question 13) When asked why they joined
Project Chanology, each stated that it was to expose the true nature of
Scientology (Appendix A, question 23). All the informants described themselves
as either agnostic or atheist (Appendix A, top).
In 1995, Scientology was concerned about a small newsgroup online called
alt.religion.scientology. A newsgroup is like an online neighborhood bulletin
board that has a specific topic. Anyone can post a message to the newsgroup,
and read all the other messages there. There are no moderators. Discussion
threads can happen as posters respond to one another. Alt.religion.scientology
(a.r.s.), created in 1991, was a mix of a small group of Scientologists,
ex-Scientologists, and critics, who debated and shared information. In
1994 Scientology planned ways to eliminate critical discussion on a.r.s.
These plans were leaked to the newsgroup (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995).
In December 1994 certain internal Scientology documents were anonymously
posted to a.r.s. Scientology responded by attempting to close down a.r.s.
Scientology attorneys wrote to Internet service providers demanding that
they stop hosting a.r.s. Attorney Helena Kobrin sent out a software command
known as an rmgroup which tells the system to remove a particular
newsgroup. She followed this up with a notice claiming that the newsgroup
was mainly a place where copyright infringement was occurring and should
be closed (Lippard & Jacobsen). Most service providers canceled the
rmgroup command, though on some portions of the Internet, a.r.s. did disappear
at least temporarily.
These attempts to silence a.r.s. gained more and more attention online.
They were seen as a threat to the culture of free speech on the Internet.
If an organization can close down a portion of free speech on the Internet
simply because they don't like what is being said, then all free speech
is potentially at peril.
A few weeks later Scientology raided the home of Dennis Erlich, an ex-Scientologist
and regular contributor on a.r.s. (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995). They
carted off his computer and many of his private files, claiming that Erlich
had posted copyrighted Scientology documents to the newsgroup. Arnie Lerma's
home was raided next on August 12, 1995, then Lawrence Wollersheim and
Bob Penny (Grossman, 1995). All of these people are ex-Scientologists.
Each time, copyright infringement violations were alleged.
Church attorneys also managed to close down an anonymous remailer, anon.penit.fi,
based in Finland (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995). This remailer provided
a service to people who wanted to post messages anonymously by forwarding
posts, but with identifying markers stripped. Some people had been using
anon.penet.fi to post internal Scientology documents to a.r.s.
This sudden spate of heavy-handed tactics to silence critics brought many
free-speech activists to arms. In 1995 critics and free-speech activists
began protesting outside Scientology churches. News media began to cover
It is this history that has scarred Scientology's on-line reputation.
Free speech is arguably the most important aspect of the Internet, so
when that is so blatantly attacked, it garners attention and concern.
As Michael Peckham observed in his study on Scientology and the Internet,
Many Internet users see themselves as constituting a community that
does not recognize external authorities and attempts to regulate
from outside meet with resounding disfavor. (Peckham, 1998, p. 321)
Scientology failed to close down alt.religion.scientology and failed to
silence critics. Critics continued making use of the Internet by posting
news articles, first-person accounts, legal documents, and some internal
church documents in newsgroups and on web sites. As services like youtube
sprang up, critics posted videos of protests, interviews with ex-Scientologists,
and copies from TV programs that had covered the darker side of Scientology.
Some TV programs such as South Park (Parker, 2005) and Boston Legal (Kelley,
2006) covered Scientology in a negative light. In May 2007 BBC's John
Sweeney aired a program on Scientology that showed Scientologists following
and harassing him, even to his hotel room (Sweeney, 2007). By 2008 there
was an almost unlimited supply of critical information in many formats
about Scientology available on the Internet.
In November, 2005, Tom Cruise, arguably the most famous publicly avowed
Scientologist, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, and jumped on her couch
in expression of his love for Katie Holmes (angelsgurl, 2007). In June
that same year Cruise was interviewed by Matt Lauer on Good Morning America,
in which he railed against psychiatry (In tense moment, 2005). Scientology
is anti-psychiatry. In January, 2008, Andrew Morton published his unauthorized
biography of Tom Cruise (Morton, 2008). Videos of Cruise' actions on Good
Morning America and Oprah were posted to youtube.com as well as other
sites. On January 11, 2008 came an unauthorized leak of a Scientology
in-house video of Tom Cruise extolling the benefits of Scientology, as
Scientology attorneys rushed to get the video removed from the Internet.
Gawker.com refused to remove the video despite legal threats from Scientology
(Denton, 2008). Again, Scientology was taking a heavy-handed approach
to silence speech on the Internet. Regardless of whether they had legitimate
copyright concerns, this was again seen by many on the Internet as an
attack on free speech. It was Scientology's attempt to remove the Tom
Cruise video that sparked a call to action from Anonymous. The current
central web site for Project Chanology, whyweprotest.net, states that
Anonymous originally chose Scientology as a campaign target because
of the events surrounding the now infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video.
While the video itself was not enough to spark interest, the untamed aggression
of the Church of Scientology to remove it did. (why do we protest,
REACTIONS TO PROJECT CHANOLOGY
When Project Chanology began, the Church of Scientology immediately began
labeling Anonymous as Internet terrorists based on their initial Ddos
attacks, crank phone calls, videos and such. Responding to the February
10 protest in Clearwater, Florida, a church spokesperson said Anonymous
was like the KKK or Nazis. "It's similar to burning a cross on somebody's
lawn," she said. "It's a bunch of yahoos. They get on the Internet
and they don't use real communication." (Abel, 2008) Scientology
made a video mentioned previously that they put on youtube.com, placed
on a dedicated web site, and sent along with Cease and Desist orders.
This video listed many crimes of Anonymous. Scientology began
looking for the leaders of Anonymous.
A common method Scientology has used to target individual protesters has
been for someone to follow a protester to their car to get a license plate
number. Apparently, Scientologists then run the plate number to get a
name and address. They either then out the individual or send
them threatening mail. A law firm hired by Scientology has sent threatening
notices to some formerly anonymous protesters, warning of dire consequences
if the protester continues associating with Anonymous. This has happened
in different countries to several protesters. For instance, in Australia,
BBG posted to the local Anonymous forum:
I have been fair gamed. The Saturday after Anonville, myself and Erisus
were issued Cease and Desist letters by a small-time firm called Brock
Partners Solicitors. The letter accused me of being part of the "group"
Anonymous, a group "responsible for "harassing phone calls,
vandalised church property, sent vulgar and threatening faxes, posted
threats on the Internet and publicly threatened to kill Scientologists
engaged in religious services."
(No, I'm not making that s**t up. They actually accused Anonymous of
threatening to kill Scilons) (BBG, 2008).
One of the legal letters sent in the US was posted online. The law firm
of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns in Clearwater, Florida sent
a protester whose license plate had been traced a letter that states in
I enclose a brief documentary for your information, which sets forth
additional evidence of criminal acts of Anonymous. Law enforcement authorities
have been notified of these illegal activities.
We are writing you as a courtesy because on February 10, 2008 a car
driven by an unidentified person with Florida license plate number [number
blacked out] was seen at a demonstration of Anonymous members
in downtown Clearwater, Florida. We assume that the driver of this car
was your son, daughter, or relative. The intent of this letter is to
alert you to the fact that your child or relative may be engaged in
improper activities on behalf of Anonymous. We are providing you this
information in order to give you the opportunity to take whatever steps
you deem necessary and appropriate to ensure that your child or relative
does not participate in illegal activities or acts of violence or take
on the legal responsibility for such acts as a participant in this group
(letter in Appendix C).
At least one protester stopped protesting after receiving such a letter.
In Clearwater, Florida Scientology went to court in early March in an
attempt to get a restraining order against the protests. This was difficult,
however, because they couldn't name any of the protesters, and if they
had, those people could have simply no longer protested, leaving others
free to continue. A judge rejected the injunction attempt, and a second
attempt immediately after the first was rejected. In the second injunction
attempt, Scientology named several people as protesters, including an
employee of the local Starbucks. The Starbucks employee complained about
being mentioned in the suit since she had no affiliation with Anonymous
and had coincidentally just gone to work to check on her schedule at the
time of the protest (Farley, 2008).
protesters found that flyers were distributed around their neighborhood
exposing their affiliation to Anonymous and their real name with a photo
Some Anons who did not join Project Chanology spoke against those who
did. The first of two main complaints is that once you do something IRL
(in real life) then you are no longer anonymous, which destroys a foundational
aspect of Anonymous. The second is that Project Chanology is for moralfags,
or people concerned with societal issues, since it is designed to help
people rather than it being a project for lulz or fun. One
poster on the 4chan forum /b/ responding to a news article about Anonymous
wrote See what you protest fags have done? Anonymous even has a
WIKIPEDIA article now. You f*king faggots, now we need a new name.
(/b/ forum post, 2008)
Long-time critics of Scientology were first fearful of Anonymous. Anonymous'
initial dirty tricks style of attack could be attributed to long-time
critics who had chosen to use legal and ethical methods. It was a group
unknown with apparently nefarious plans and actions. Mark Bunker, as previously
mentioned, posted a video to youtube.com explaining critics' concerns
and promoting peaceful demonstrations as the best tool for Project Chanology.
After Anonymous did switch tactics, there was energetic interaction with
the older critics with little argument thereafter. Much of the discussion
thereafter was about the different cultures between the two groups and
whether this would make long-term cooperation difficult.
The February 10 protest stunned long-time critics of Scientology. The
largest protest by the long-time critics was in 1998 when about 50 people
from around the US and even Europe and Canada went to Clearwater, Florida
(Tobin, 1998). A candlelight vigil the night of the protest in honor of
a Scientologist who had died mysteriously garnered around 150 people.
The Anonymous protest in Clearwater on February 10, 2008 had around 200
mostly local people (Abel & Donila, 2008). How could a group that
no one had heard of, that suddenly decided to protest Scientology bring
out four times as many people as a group that had been doing such protests
for several years?
CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW
Though there may be little profit in it, if there is much righteousness,
do it. (Watson, 1963, p. 27)
LEVELS OF COMMUNITY ACTION
In the early days of the Internet there was a fear that those who went
online would lose their connections to real people as they more and more
chose to communicate and do things online. Some research shows that the
opposite has actually happened, where social connections made online actually
enhance rather than replace offline socializing. A 2001 survey of Internet
users found that 84% had at one time or another contacted an online group,
indicating that people are socializing in some respect online (Horrigan,
2001). Reviewing the literature on the subject, Paul Di Maggio et al concluded
that Internet users have higher levels of generalized trust and
larger social networks than nonusers. (Di Maggio, Hargittai, Newman
& Robinson, 2001, p. 316) The ease of communication and the elimination
of physical distance as an impediment to communication makes discussion
and socializing simpler in new ways:
Online communities come in very different shapes and sizes
ranging from virtual communities that connect geographically distant
people with no prior acquaintance who share similar interests, to settings
that facilitate interactions among friendship networks or family members,
to community networks that focus on issues relevant to a geographically
defined neighborhood (Di Maggio et al., 2001, p. 317).
Most online communities are based on shared interests rather than other
similarities such as geographical proximity. Thanks to the size of the
Internet and ease of interaction, There is much anecdotal evidence
that the Internet provides significant benefits to people with unusual
identities and concerns... (Di Maggio et al., 2001, p. 318). Thus
people with interests in otherwise obscure topics can readily find fellow
enthusiasts. Suddenly people have more potential friends from shared interests
than was possible in any other way.
Social interaction online is different in some respects from offline.
You can't see or hear each other, or notice non-verbal cues or traits.
As the famous New Yorker cartoon states, On the Internet, nobody
knows you're a dog (Steiner, 1993). This creates different social
dynamics. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998 created an
online community of school students worldwide called Junior Summit. Participants
selected topics for discussion, and after a time selected 100 delegates
to travel to Boston for a summit. The researchers found that the students
selected as delegates didn't display previously established characteristics
of adult leaders, but they had referred to group goals rather
than to themselves and synthesized other's posts rather than offering
only their own ideas (Bower, 2006, p. 378). Rather than look for
normal physical cues, online congregants looked for signs of collaborative
and persuasive proficiency. (Bower) Selection of delegates has different
criteria online. Selection of friends is the same, since you don't have
visual cues or any physical attributes normally used to evaluate a person.
Communication skills, knowledge, a sense of humor, and the qualities that
can be discerned from email, chatting online, and other interaction are
the markers that make a person attractive or not online.
The notion of just what is community is also different online. In her
paper on the subject, Linda Carroli states that Certainly, the traditional
notion of community is founded on assumptions about consensus, rationality,
and collectivity that do not translate well to virtual spaces like the
Internet. In a virtual environment, collaboration displaces community...
(Carroli, 1997, p. 359) Barry Wellman in his paper on social networks
concurs: Although community was once synonymous with densely knit,
bounded neighborhood groups, it is now seen as a less bounded social network
of relationships that provide sociability support, information, and a
sense of belonging. (Wellman, 2001, p. 2031) Social linkage has
made a turn to networked societies that are loosely bounded and
sparsely knit (Wellman) rather than the more tightly connected groups
in a local community.
things online do not easily fit into general notions of community. Clay
Shirky, for example, asks Is Wikidpedia a community? (Shirky,
2008, p. 278) Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia whose entries are created
by volunteer contributors, refers to itself as a community (Wikipedia,
n.d.). In one sense, says Shirky, the answer to this question is yes.
People come together to collaborate on a project (an entry), and may check
back now and then to improve on the entry they are interested in, or to
correct something someone else has edited. They are contributing to a
project that they feel is worthy and that they find of interest. On the
other hand, contributors don't even know who the other people they are
working with are. They never see them nor speak to them other than concerning
the task at hand. And normally they only contribute to one or a few entries
and then move on. Shirky says that Wikipedia is in fact a bureaucracy
mainly given over to arguing. The articles are the residue of the argument...
(Shirky, 2008, p. 279) This is certainly an unusual description of a community.
When I join and shop or sell something on Ebay, I am considered a part
of the Ebay community. But all I've done is, for instance, put up an item
for sale at auction, and then sent it to the highest bidder after he or
she has paid. I know nothing about this person other than their name and
address, and that they were attracted to my item and paid for it. There
is a system of rating buyers and sellers, however, so that those with
accumulated good ratings are more likely to be trusted. But in general
Ebayers have little interaction and know little about each other. Ebay.com
has a community section for information about their site.
There are many other examples like this. Flickr.com is a web site where
anyone can upload photos and mark them with descriptive words or phrases,
which then allows visitors to find photos on certain subjects by using
their index or search engine. It is essentially run by the contributors.
Again, Flickr calls itself a community (Flicker, n.d.). You can form groups
on a certain subject and chat there with others on forums for that group.
But again, you don't really know the other person except by their photos
and the discussion of the photos for the group. You may not know where
the person lives, what sex they are, their name (other than the nickname
they use online), nor their age. But you do know enough about their photography
to know if it interests you.
There are features common to these sites, such as some form of communication
between participants and a common interest, whether it be creating an
encyclopedic entry, shopping, or photography. Is this enough for a community?
Shirky says yes. People now have access to myriad tools that let
them share writings, images, video any form of expressive content,
in fact and use that sharing as an anchor for community and cooperation.
(Shirky, 2008, p. 103)
Anonymous is an extreme example of this type of loose-knit online social
network that could be called community. They come to a particular web
site (4chan.org being the most popular) and share images or short statements.
In the forum on 4chan.org called /b/ there is not even a topic,
so subjects range far and wide and there is no rule for staying on subject
when you respond. Contributors are anonymous to each other. And yet, from
this bare thread of connection, an identity has formed, cooperative actions
have taken place, and a collective movement, Project Chanology, has emerged
and sustained itself for these many months.
Anonymous sees itself as a collective with loose ties. In the Wikipedia
entry describing Anonymous, the collaborative group that created the entry
As a mass noun and Internet meme, Anonymous's origin began as a "running
gag" when Internet users proposed that the default tag, "Anonymous",
used for unsigned posts on imageboards, could be a real person. Users
began acting the part, at which point the concept became viral.
Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an
unnamed collective. Definitions tend to emphasize the fact that the
term cannot be readily encompassed by a simple definition, and instead
it is often defined by aphorisms describing perceived qualities.
[Anonymous is] the first Internet-based superconsciousness. Anonymous
is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you
know they're a group? Because they're travelling in the same direction.
At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another
direction entirely.Landers, Chris, Baltimore City Paper, April
(Anonymous (group), n.d.).
This notion of a flock of birds is somewhat reflective of Rousseau's discussion
of man in the state of nature, where an individual found that occasionally
common interest created a time when men could work together, and he
united with them in a herd, or at most in a sort of free association that
committed no one and which lasted only as long as the passing need which
had brought it into being. (Cranston, 1984, p. 111)
When I asked my informants to define Anonymous, they called it a
loosely affiliated collective, a milder form of a culture,
and an Internet sub-culture. One did use the term community:
Anonymous is an expression of Freedom of Thought and Freedom of
Expression. Unlike other forms of community it does not run on the forces
of personality or through structured hierarchies. It is a community of
thoughts, not identities (Appendix A, question 8).
One thing that gradually forms from sharing in forums is that popular
things get repeated. Some of these take on the status of memes, or phrases
and ideas that become almost a part of the language of the community or
cultural tags. On the flickr.com site users even call such memes flickrspeak
(Geisha, 2008). Such memes were instantly noticeable within the first
Project Chanology protests. To an outsider these phrases make no sense,
but to an insider, they are instantly recognized and convey a rich shared
understanding. Rick-roll is an example that was used at the
protests. You got Rick-rolled! meant that someone tricked
you into seeing a Rick Astley video of his 1980's song Never Gonna
Give You Up, or you heard the song. At almost every protest at some
point or other the entire group would sing the Rick Astley song to the
delight of the protesters and complete bewilderment of passersby. These
memes indicate at minimum that the group has shared communication enough
to have an insider language (list of some memes in Appendix B).
MAKING COLLECTIVE ACTION EASY
Shirky points to a ladder of participation within a community
where the lower rung is sharing, the middle rung is cooperation, and the
higher rung is collective action (Shirky, 2008). Sharing is the least
demanding, which is simply contributing something such as an image in
a Flickr group. Cooperation involves changing your behavior to synchronize
with people who are changing their behavior to synchronize with you.
(Shirky, 2008, p. 49) This is somewhat like the involvement on Ebay, where
a sale is coordinated, or having a discussion on some subject. Collective
action is the most demanding of the three rungs. Work is done by several
people, and decision making must be worked out. Complexity is built into
collective action. An example of this complexity is the Tragedy of the
Commons, where a limited resource will be squandered unless all involved
work out a solution that all will abide by. In the Tragedy of the Commons,
individual considerations conflict with the optimal outcome for the group.
The group must have some vision or goal that is strong enough to stifle
the individual's desire to seek the best personal path for the sake of
But there are ways to make collective action easier and less demanding.
And when collective action is not much more difficult than the lower rung
of cooperation, it allows those who otherwise would not want to commit
as much to reach the third rung and work collectively.
One way to make collective action easier is to make communication easier.
Enter the Internet. Many aspects of collective action are made easier,
quicker, and cheaper by utilizing the Internet. People can work collectively
no matter where they are. Organizing can be coordinated through instant
communication. Information can be distributed, press releases sent, videos
produced and published. Skills can be utilized. All of this and more can
be done at little or no expense. As an example of this, before the Internet
if someone wanted to know the latest news about, say, religious cults,
they could subscribe to a newsclipping service. Such services subscribed
en masse to newspapers and other information sources from around the world,
and for a fee would send copies of articles pertaining to a client's particular
interest. Or a group of people could gather such news clippings and condense
them into a newsletter. Free Minds, Inc. of Minneapolis provided a monthly
newsletter on religious cults in the 1980s. A subscriber would devour
the latest newsletter filled with photocopies of newspaper clippings from
many sources, and instantly be one of the most knowledgeable people in
their community on the subject (unless there was another subscriber in
the same town). On the Internet, in contrast, there are many ways to instantly
get much more information than Free Minds was able to supply once a month.
One could go to the news section of the search engine google.com and find
most news articles on religious cults just by typing in the name of a
group or leader, or just the phrase religious cult. There
are web sites such as rickross.com that reliably provide extensive news
and archives on religious cults, acting somewhat like the clipping services.
One could subscribe to news feeds that search the Internet for information
on your topic and email you whatever they find. All of these methods are
free, easy to use, and provide faster and more thorough results than Free
Minds or any clipping service could. New technologies and programs cut
costs, shrink geographic distances, and eliminate time as a problem.
Another way to make collective action easier is to open cooperation to
all, with no minimal requirement for participation. The operating system
Linux, is one of the first examples of this. Programmers gave varying
amounts of effort as they chose. The skill of the programmer was not so
important since bad code was rejected anyway. The time required to write
some code didn't matter. There was no deadline. The topic was up to the
programmer's interest. A contributor could work on one topic and be done,
or work on other parts of the software as desired. In this way, a huge
pool of programmers could be tapped for virtually no cost. Linux is a
successful direct competitor with Microsoft in the field of computer operating
systems. Yet Linux has no physical structure, no hierachy, no employees.
It is a creation of a community (Hasan, 2005).
In summary, a collective of people on the Internet through sharing and
communication, however slightly connected, can be a community of sorts.
From these loose-knit communities can come collective action on a large
scale, such as Project Chanology arising from Anonymous. The fact that
such communities are prolific online suggests to me that Project Chanology
is not some aberration but is instead a harbinger of future activism.
As one reporter covering Anonymous noted: The impact of Anonymous
may be a demonstration of the real power of the Internet to reach out
and change the status quo. What will our reaction be when they turn their
collective attention away from Scientology and towards something else?
Like, maybe, business? Or the government? (Leibert, 2008).
There were at least two protests being organized on the Internet almost
concurrent with Project Chanology. By using Facebook and other online
social tools, Oscar Morales organized protests against a terrorist group
in Columbia known as FARC. On February 4, 2008, an estimated 4.8 million
people in 27 Columbian communities, plus many in 104 other cities around
the world protested against FARC (Tapscott, p. 62). In South Korea in
April 2008, citizens became upset at their government allowing untested
U.S. beef into their country after concerns about Mad Cow disease had
circulated widely. Discussions quickly spread on teenage discussion forums,
and a petition to impeach the president over the lifting of the ban on
U.S. beef started, quickly gaining 1.3 million signatures in just one
week (Tapscott, p. 254). Through the pressure from protests, citizen journalism,
and other groups joining in, President Lee responded by firing three of
his cabinet officers. 'It was the Net Geners who led the protest.
This huge upheaval in Korean society was driven by teenagers!' (Tapscott,
Dilbert, copyright Scott Adams http://www.dilbert.com/
Another way to make collective action simpler and less demanding is to
eliminate hierarchy. This may seem to be counterproductive, or even counter
to human nature, to organize without leadership. Thomas Hobbes insisted
on the idea that a Common Power was required to keep order
in society (Hobbes, 1985). Everyone in a state would agree to be under
a single man or an assembly that would be the final authority within that
society. Rousseau, Locke, and others later countered that individual freedom
should be the cornerstone of a government, where citizens could vote for
their leaders and in turn vote them out when dissatisfied.
It should be noted that Anonymous and these types of groups are not governments.
The above writers were speaking of government. But the historical point
is that political thought and research in other social sciences has shown
a trend toward the notion of personal autonomy and away from strict hierarchical
rule. And I will suggest that much thought has led toward the theory that
in many situations non-hierarchical groups can be more flexible, efficient
and useful than hierarchically structured groups. Governments will no
doubt remain hierarchical, but many organized tasks can be done in a manner
with minimal structure.
Hierarchical businesses, governments, and other types of organizations
expend a certain amount of resources toward their control structure. Boards
of directors, presidents and vice-presidents, managers, and the resources
they expend demand a percentage of the enterprise. Communication channels
up and down the hierarchical ladder are needed to send up information
of needs and to send down orders. For a corporation, for example, to form,
the hierarchical structure must be in place before the system can begin
However, even within the business world there are examples of this trend
toward less structure. Dee Hock built the Visa credit card system. He
calls his organizational philosophy a chaordic system, which
he defines as the behavior of any self-governing organism, organization
or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos
which is characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles
of evolution and nature. (Hock, 1999, inside jacket cover) The system
he created is one where each member local bank autonomously runs their
portion of the system. There is no central leadership. This new type of
non-hierarchical business structure created in 1970 has been a big influence
on businesses because of its success.
Groups such as Project Chanology intend to be non-hierarchical. Though
there are examples where this has not been adhered to on the local level,
as a group they vehemently declare that they are leaderless. In the Frequently
Asked Questions section of a Project Chanology web site, they state that
The leadership of Anonymous is non-existent. We have no controlling
party. We fall under the sway of no individual or organization. We are
directed only by the decisions of the whole. Guidance comes from the message,
not from the individual. (More about Anonymous, 2008) An Anonymous
youtube video titled Who is Anonymous? states that there
is no control, no leadership, only influence the influence of thought.
(AnonymousThought, 2008) A newspaper in Arizona referred to an Anonymous
organizer as a leader of Anonymous. This brought instant derision
and wrath onto the organizer by fellow Anons, even though it was the reporter
who gave that designation, not the organizer. The organizer quit Project
Chanology after being outed and thrashed on the message boards (ASUFag,
The trend toward decentralization is growing in current society through
several influences. Specialists are less necessary, for instance, since
the tools of many trades are becoming easier and easier to do oneself.
People can trade their own stocks and mutual funds online rather than
requiring a specialist. Journalism is in a turmoil because anyone can
now set up their own blog or web site and report news in their area or
area of expertise and reach the entire world. Are bloggers journalists?
This question has not yet been answered, though they were accommodated
at the 2008 Democratic convention (Chaddock, 2008). Video editing has
become simple and cheap with free software such as Movie Maker, which
comes packaged with Microsoft operating systems and delivers high quality
results. More and more tasks can be done personally rather than going
to a company or service provider to create what used to require special
Clay Shirky discusses extensively how ordinary citizens can organize easily
to accomplish some task without need of structure. Discussing the online
encyclopedia Wikipedia, he says Something this big seems like it
should require managers, a budget, a formal work-flow process. Without
those things how could it possibly work? The simple but surprising answer
is: spontaneous division of labor. (Shirky, 2008, p. 118) Wikipedia
articles, as stated above, are created by users. If someone has an interest
in, say, northern lights, they can go to Wikipedia and see if there is
already an entry. If not, they can create one. Others can view the entry
and edit it, adding, correcting, or deleting errors. A community of sorts
can form around a topic and heated discussions can boil in the discussion
forum for that entry. Every statement in an entry is supposed to be backed
by a credible source, but arguments can start over whether a source is
credible or not, whether another source is more credible, etc. This process
can go on continually. Shirky explains: This situation is almost
comically chaotic a car company would go out of business in weeks
if it let its workers simply work on what they wanted to, when they wanted
to... There is, however, a noncommercial way to do so, which involves
being effective without worrying about being efficient. (Shirky,
2008, p. 120)
Companies need efficiency to keep their costs of operation in check. Volunteer
groups like Wikipedia do not have costs to keep in check. They do not
pay nor control the workers of the site. Contributors come and go as they
see fit, and work as much or as little as they have an interest. People
with many levels of expertise contribute. Yet Wikipedia is a hugely popular
and useful information site, getting consistently more visitors than cnn.com
or microsoft.com, as examples. I made this comparison at www.alexa.com
This blending of company with volunteer input has grown widely on the
Internet. Digg.com, for instance, is a news site that is run by its users.
Users upload a story they found interesting and other users vote on stories
they consider useful or interesting to them. Stories with the most votes
show up first on the site.
Leaderless cooperation amongst strangers to accomplish a task is becoming
a ubiquitous model online and even offline. It should be noted that the
tasks to be accomplished are relatively simple, like typing up and referencing
information about northern lights onto Wikipedia. A simple, clearly defined
task is a common feature of such collective action. Participants are given
flexibility in how much they want to contribute and at what level they
desire, when they desire. Cheap and easy communication is used for the
Somehow, this seemingly chaotic structure works. It is like a hive of
bees. Bees have a simple, clearly defined task that they accomplish through
cooperation and communication. They have no central control, yet they
have survived as a species for millions of years. Nature provides many
examples of simplicity creating unexpectedly complex results. Evolution
is another example of a system with no controlling structure that still
somehow produces new and better creations through its process of keeping
that which works and dumping that which doesn't.
What motivates someone to join a collective action? What might the catalyst
be that gets someone to invest time, effort, and possible risk to help
accomplish some common goal? Why not stay home and let somebody else do
the work, and profit for free from the labor of others? In order to consider
these questions about Project Chanology, I will be using Dennis Chong's
work on the motivations of civil rights activists in the United States
during the 1950s and 1960s. I will summarize Chong's variables required
to create a collective action, then compare his structural and motivational
theories to Project Chanology.
is a dilemma in starting a movement. People can choose to sit on the sidelines
and assume that others will do the work, and they can enjoy the benefits
after the process is done. These are called free riders. Others may feel
that they can get by on their own without the possible gain from cooperative
action. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, considered such
a case of a group of people in the state of nature: If it was a
matter of hunting deer, everyone well realized that he must remain faithfully
at his post; but if a hare happened to pass within the reach of one of
them, we cannot doubt that he would have gone off in pursuit of it without
scruple and, having caught his own prey, he would have cared very little
about having caused his companions to lose theirs. (Cranston, 1984,
p. 120) How is it possible to keep the rabbit hunter at his station so
everyone can have a meal of deer instead of just him having a rabbit?
But how does the rabbit hunter know that a deer will even show up, and
he will lose out on a delicious rabbit as well as deer? The dilemma, then,
is to persuade all the individuals that collectively hunting deer is more
fruitful for everyone, including themselves. And it is especially a dilemma
when collective deer hunting is an untried process.
The advantage of working together to gain a large goal that is useful
to many or even to all can be thwarted by an individual deciding to break
off for personal wants or needs. If too many defect then the collective
action is no longer collective, and the action most likely ends as well.
The rabbit hunter who leaves his deer hunting post will not be trusted
next time a deer hunt takes place, reducing the rabbit hunter's chances
for food in the future.
This situation is called the assurance game in games theory. An iterative
assurance game is where players will be in the same game over and over,
thus making reputation a part of the game. Cooperation in this case is
of personal as well as group benefit, since you will be trusted to come
along for the next deer hunt if you work cooperatively. The selective
incentives to participate are the accumulated future benefits that we
will reap as a reward for cooperation in the current collective endeavor.
(Chong, 1991, p. 55)
Some may choose not to join a movement unless it appears to be large
enough and strong enough to accomplish the goal. But, if everyone waits
for a movement to grow to a certain amount of participants, who will ever
The most difficult part of organizing a movement, therefore, is the
task of building up the movement to the point where an obligation or
incentive to contribute to it arises. Usually the initial stages of
coordination will follow a different dynamic from that of the latter
stages. A group of highly motivated individuals purists, zealots,
moralists, Kantians, what have you will have to provide the leadership
required to convince others that large-scale coordination will be a
profitable activity (Chong, 1991 , p. 95).
Chong gives a sample case of a strike in a foundry. A few workers grew
impatient at the grievance process and began to call for a work stoppage.
But at the beginning of the organizing, the shop forman threatened to
fire any workers who joined a strike. The originators of the strike boldly
stood in the middle of the room, calling for the others to leave their
stations and join them there. But the workers were tentative. If they
stepped forward and no one else did, they would surely lose their job.
Gradually, through signaling and interpreting each other's intentions,
they moved outside to the courtyard. At this point, workers from other
departments began arriving in the courtyard as well, and the tension lifted
as it was obvious that indeed this was a collective action (Chong, 1991).
For Chong, certain elements go into initiating a collective action. Previous
actions that can be used as a template are helpful to guide current plans
(Chong, 1991). Precursor movements that pave the way are helpful but apparently
not necessary. A steadfast leadership is required to form
a critical mass(Chong, p. 164) at the beginning. A strong
organizational structure is needed to make sure the movement doesn't collapse.
The movement should start with clearly defined small-scale goals that
could be more quickly achieved and inform those on the sidelines that
the group will be successful.
The movement must be seen as worth joining from a rational actor perspective,
but also in order for large-scale cooperation to occur, there must
be at a minimum a general agreement that the proposed project is clearly
to the benefit of the group. (Chong, 1991, p. 94)
Once the movement is underway, people can see whether it appears to be
useful and potentially successful. If there is some threshold of membership
that appears large enough for success, others will then be willing to
join. This is called contagion. Once the movement begins to have success,
others join the bandwagon to share in the wins and perhaps
the glory (Chong, 1991). So long as there is a threshold of membership
and some form of success, the collective action will generally continue.
The group being challenged will most likely oppose the collective action.
This opposition can have varying levels of effectiveness that may also
challenge a person's decision to join the movement. If the opposition
can make the cost of participation very high personally, and can convincingly
demonstrate that to potential or current members, then the cost-benefit
ratio that each person decides for himself can change drastically. In
the case of those who reacted to the civil rights activists, the
perpetrators of violence want to deter the activists by magnifying the
costs of participation. (Chong, 1991, p. 65) On the other hand,
if the opposition gives in to some demand of the movement, that will persuade
the bandwagon people on the sidelines to join, and reinforce
the decision of the current members.
Obviously, collective action is a complex affair with psychological, sociological,
historical and political influences shaping the success or failure of
the endeavor. It may be difficult to discern a particular person's motivation
for joining in the action. And in fact, this may change. Chong gives as
an example Bill Hall, who joined SNCC one of the civil rights groups
- in order to be close to his girlfriend who was already an active member.
As he became more and more active and committed to the cause, he finally
had to decide whether to enter college as he had planned. Finally, his
priorities had so changed that he declined and decided to remain with
SNCC. (Chong, 1991, p. 70-71)
Other people may have been wanting to be involved, but just didn't feel
the time or situation was correct for them. Some small event could be
just enough to give them the impetus to join in. For example, four black
students in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 decided to conduct a sit-in
at a local lunch counter. They expected no other help or notice from their
actions other than to convey their views to the store. They did this for
several days, and each day more and more protesters joined them, even
though they did not solicit any other aid. One of the additional volunteers
stated we all realized we had been wanting to do something and now
was the time. (Chong, 1991, p. 134)
Scattered throughout his book, Chong mentions several personal social
and psychological reasons why a person might choose to join a collective
action. These are worth listing to help see that there may be multiple
and cross-influencing reasons why a person would join the civil rights
movement, Project Chanology, or any other movement.
The Rational Actor Model is a part of Chong's book. The major premise
in this study is that people are rational actors whose decisions are guided
by rational calculations. A rational person is assumed to be driven by
the pursuit of goals. (Chong, 1991, p. 1) The rational actor will
seek socially defined goals, but only as stepping-stones to private
goals. (Chong, 1991, p. 2) Chong states that this theory is flawed
because it misconceives the nature of the goods that are sought
by participants in social movements, and it misunderstands how the
goods are to be obtained. But Chong does not abandon the Rational Actor
Model. He states that everyone, I'm convinced, to some extent supports
values and carries out good deeds because it is wise from a cost-benefit
calculus. (Chong, 1991, p. 91) What Chong does do is expand the
rational actor model to include complex social and psychological forces
and considerations all working together in a sometimes unfathomable complexity.
These multiple motives and ideals make the rational actor human rather
than just a self-centered calculating machine.
A person's pre-existing social network will most likely influence the
deicsion to join. Friends or family may already be active, or may have
been influenced by the object of protest. Of course, it could work the
other way as well, where friends persuade you that the movement is going
to fail so there is no reason to join. It seems self-evident that
social pressures will be both more salient and subject to more effective
enforcement in small, tightly knit groups than in large, impersonal collectives
in which members are protected by the cloak of anonymity. (Chong,
1991, p. 35)
When a person's reputation and status is at stake he is vulnerable to
social influence. If your friends are in the collective action and would
consider you a free rider if you did not become active yourself, this
is a persuasive reason to join (Chong, 1991, p. 55). But you may not even
need to be persuaded if you are altruistic. Altruistic people join because
it is the right thing to do, regardless of what others are doing, and
moral behavior is more honored when it is not seen to be driven
by ulterior motives; hence, it may be in one's self-interest to develop
genuine concern for others. (Chong, 1991, p. 68) Chong argues that
being altruistic, then, can fit the rational actor model by providing
personal benefits to altruistic actions.
There are psychological reasons to join as well. Some people join a movement
because it can be fun and exciting. Like old-time athletes who played
for love of the game, political activists relish the competition and conflict
of the political arena. (Chong, 1991, p. 76) The process for these
people is perhaps even more important than the goal.
Another psychological fulfillment is the feeling of mastery over
their society (Chong, 1991, p. 78) wherein participants have the
feeling of being on the front line changing society into its proper form.
Also, personal growth and development can be an incentive to join a collective
effort. This can be a benefit regardless whether the goal is achieved
From all these calculations, and no doubt others, people decide whether
to join. But even participating in unsuccessful actions, as seen above,
can give personally satisfying benefits.
CHONG APPLIED TO PROJECT CHANOLOGY
When comparing Chong's consideration of the civil rights movement to Project
Chanology, his take on individual influences fit reasonably well. When
I asked my informants why they joined Project Chanology, they answered
this in similar ways to each other. Each of them had some knowledge of
Scientology previously and negative opinions of it. Each of them stated
that there was a need for something to be done about Scientology. The
creation of Project Chanology gave them an outlet to participate. One
stated that I'd have been protesting them sooner but it was too
dangerous before Chanology. Anonymous delivers safety in numbers that
wasn't there before. (Chong, 1991, p. 100) Two answered that they
were the type who joined movements. I'm the activist type, and I
like a challenge, and I'm very involved with other groups
as it is, and it's not so terribly hard to find me apart [sic] of a group
if I believe in its cause. (Appendix A, question 23) These are the
altruistic people who join to do the right thing and contribute to society.
In the forums where people explain how they joined Project Chanology,
a recurrent theme is that the call to action on youtube.com and through
the message boards was what turned them to activism. For instance, Read
bare faced Messiah [a critical biography of Scientology's founder] maybe
5 years ago? looked at xenu.net etc back then, got hands on some OT materials
[Scientology doctrine] that were released due to Danish (I Think?) court
case, obviously realised [sic] it is dangerous rubbish.. Couldn't really
do much about it until I ran across the original anon msg [message] to
scilon [Scientology] video.. Joined in to IRL protests then. (anon12345,
2008) It was the idea that a group was planning to do something together
that gave many the impetus to become active, whereas they rejected individual
Several people in Anonymous forums stated that they joined after they
saw that things were working well. These would be Chong's bandwagon or
contagion participants, who need to see that there are enough participants
and that things might be successful first. In an Anonymous forum ChaoticPsychotic
said You all have allowed for me and so many others to feel safe
enough to start to come out into the light so to speak. I have personally
been contacted by many old friends. Some who are more 'out' than others.
Some who are still trying to break away. This is something which I would
have seen as an impossibility just a year ago. (ChaoticPsychotic,
2008) FormerlyIn agreed; Anonymous has given me the
strenght [sic] to speak out and face the cult and all their tactics.
Anonymous had ready access to information about previous protests against
Scientology. There were videos readily available on youtube.com and xenutv.com
from protests back as far as 1995. Web sites such as lermanet.com contained
first-person accounts and photos from previous protests. The Old
Guard, as Anons began calling long-time critics, were still active
on alt.religion.scientology and other forums, so they were readily available
for ideas and assistance. And of course, the Old Guard were quite interested
in Anonymous' decision to protest. Mark Bunker, as previously mentioned,
gave advice through a youtube.com video. While Anonymous did listen to
Bunker, it is not clear to me how much they were influenced by information
from previous protests.
Despite Anonymous' goal to maintain anonymity, there are still ways to
demonstrate individuality, and thus seek peer status and reputation. The
forums are used for after-protest reports, breaking news of other interest,
or discussion of plans or goals. Within these forums people have a nickname
and an avatar that identifies them as an individual. People gain an identity
from their behavior at protests after people connect a person with a nickname,
and from their posts and reports. So, despite most people being anonymous
as to their true identity, the online identity of those who choose to
post can build a reputation. This causes friction at times, when it might
appear that a protester is seeking personal attention rather than working
for the goal.
On the level of personal motivation, then, Chong appears to be correct
in many respects. People have joined Project Chanology for altruistic
reasons, to have a feeling of mastery over their society, and for personal
psychological and social fulfillment. There did not seem to be, however,
any mention of peer pressure that pushed anyone to join in. There were
mentions of family, but these were as a source of information about Scientology
rather than as any guidance or pressure to join the movement. Peer pressure
is difficult to apply to anonymous people.
As for Chong's list of ingredients for starting a movement, there is little
resemblance to Project Chanology. Chong states that in order for a movement
to form, A steadfast leadership is crucial for the initiation of
collective action. (Chong, 1991, p. 164) While Chong does not specifically
differentiate between hierarchical levels of leadership, he does often
mention the central leadership of the civil rights movement. The concept
of leadership is problematic in Anonymous. Anonymous has no central leadership.
The closest person who could possibly fit the role is Mark Bunker, Wise
Beard Man, who put videos on youtube.com suggesting how Anons should
behave at protests. But Bunker makes no claim to being any type of leader
and issued only periodic videos making protest suggestions. Anonymous
has never even hinted at any particular person or group that could claim
At the local level, there are Anons who do more work, and in some locales
make decisions for the group. But in general even these are not strictly
leaders because they hold no position. Decision making seems to be somewhat
different between localities. In Denver most decisions are apparently
done by consensus through discussions on their own web site, while in
Phoenix it is mostly the core group that collectively decides such things
as times and themes for the next protest.
differentiates between leaders and followers by
the intensity of their commitment to the goals of the movement. In his
model he gives more emphasis to leaders. While followers are latecomers
to collective action and are a more amorphous group than leaders,
leaders have more programmatic concerns and regard each conflict
as an integral part of a broader, long-range plan. (Chong, 1991,
p. 146) Anonymous, in contrast claims there are no categories of leader
and follower in their movement. Two things about this are
written about elsewhere in this article. The first is that there is simply
less to do than the civil rights activists did in order to accomplish
a protest. Secondly, it is easier to do what needs to be done today. In
other words, the commitment to be a leader is not much more
difficult than being a follower, comparatively speaking.
Rather than having leaders, Project Chanology struggled to put itself
together. Overall decisions were made by consensus on the forums. The
date of February 10 was chosen by consensus. They agreed to protest in
front of local churches by consensus. At the local level, between the
January 15 call to arms and the first protest on February 10, Anons worked
hard just to find each other locally. They first used IRC chat channels
to locate other Anons in their area. Then they formed their own IRC channel,
or created a web site, or even met in person to plan the local protest
(personal email, 10/15/08). In Denver, they had not even found concensus
on which Scientology property to protest, so about 13 showed up at what
turned out to be an unused Scientology location, while about 90 showed
up at the Glenwood location, which after became the main protest spot.
The Anons doing the most organizing didn't know what to expect. One of
the Denver organizers said I had no clue how many people would show
up, or even if people would. (personal email, 10/15/08) In Phoenix
about 60 people showed up for the first protest, while there were only
about 20 active people on the local IRC channel. In Tucson about 50 people
showed up, while there were about 10 active on their IRC channel. This
means that the vast majority of people who came to the first protest did
so with minimal organizing or even interaction before the event. If this
can be extrapolated to the other protests around the world, then it shows
the anarchic structure of Project Chanology, which is in opposition to
Chong's requirement for steadfast leadership to be in place
to get a movement off the ground. There was no central leadership and
very little structure.
Chong does not mention an earlier organizational system within the civil
rights movement. Jim Lawson had been the initial promoter of Gandhian
methods at the start of the civil rights movement, and it was his classes
on nonviolent protest that prepared the activists to handle physical abuse
without striking back. Lawson also taught communal leadership,
which he also considered to be a part of Gandhi's methods. He felt that
communal leadership lessened the possibility of someone having their ego
grow too large. It meant that even if the leaders were arrested
the movement could continue, and it gave more participants a feeling of
importance and value.
Lawson was surprised by how well the idea of communal leadership was
working. The members of the central committee, often thirty or forty
young people, would argue their way through a decision... They would
make sure that everyone had been heard and that everyone was on board
before adapting something as policy. It was a long and arduous way to
do things, and meetings often went on for three or four hours, but it
had its benefits as well; It was inclusionary, and it allowed some people
who were not naturally good at public speaking to participate and have
their say. It also contributed to an aura of mutual respect (Halberstam,
1998, p. 142).
This system apparently did not last that long, however, because a certain
few activists seemed to naturally rise to the top. Finally Diane Nash
was named chairman of the committee as a mutually agreeable leader, even
though she did not want the position (Halberstam, 1998). So at least in
its early stages, the civil rights movement was governed by consensus
of a large group of participants.
Organizational decision-making by consensus is not new. Athens Greece
in the fourth century B.C. was run by a form of direct democracy where
free adult citizens could debate and vote on issues brought before a gathering.
Anyone could bring up a topic and everyone could voice their opinion.
Decisions were made after discussion by majority vote (Ball & Dagger,
2006). The Iroquois Nation in northeastern North America made decisions
by consensus. Propositions came up from any adult through family, clan,
council house, nation, and finally confederacy. 'In the reverse
order, the measures of the general council were sent down to the people
for their approval. It was a standing rule that all action should be unanimous.
Hence the discussions were... continued till all opposition was reasoned
down, or the proposed measure abandoned.' (Fenton, 1998, p. 30)
There were leaders; the chiefs, sachems, Old Men, but they had no
power to demand compliance; they could only persuade and cajole. Indeed,
a headman who tried to impose his will on his followers ran the risk of
losing their respect and his job. (Woodhead, 1993, p. 47)
Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, formed in 1977 by dissidents who chafed
at Communist rule, was a very amorphous group similar to Anonymous; Charter
77 is not an organization; it has no rules, permanent bodies or formal
membership. It embraces everyone who agrees with its ideas and participates
in its work. (Havel, 1985, p. 221) Charter 77 made decisions by
consensus (Skilling, 1981). They had spokesmen, who were essentially the
intelligentsia of the movement. They also had another tier of membership
in those who physically signed the Charter. These approximately 1000 people
put their names on a document, thus exposing themselves to persecution
by the state (Skilling, 1981). The rest were simply those who considered
themselves members by being in affinity with Charter 77.
Chong mentions a lack of leadership at the 1989 student protests in Tienanmen
Square where the newly formed student organizations still have no
presidents, only committees that are so large that they are ungainly,
and many of the most talented students are afraid to take an official
position in an organization that is branded illegal. (Chong, 1991,
p. 131) But this appears to be a simple case of disorganization rather
than purposeful non-organization. Shen Tong, one of the organizers, wrote
that there were so many of us, so many groups, often going off in
different directions, that the government couldn't possibly have been
sure what we were asking for and who was asking for it. (Tong, 1990,
p. 228) Tienanmen Square was trying to organize and have leaders. They
just weren't succeeding very well.
Chong states that having simple goals in the beginning would allow for
a small success and therefore give incentive for participants to continue.
Doing so establishes a level of proficiency and success that reinforces
their followers and makes the movement attractive to others (Chong,
1991, p. 176). Overly broad goals will lead to failure. The only goal
Anonymous publicized was in their initial two videos. The first said that
we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle
the Church of Scientology in its present form (ChurchOfScientology,
January 21, 2008). The second was a bit less ambitious, wanting only to
bring light to the darkness, that someone must open the eyes of
a public that has slumbered far too long (ChurchOfScientology, January
27, 2008). This would be done through disseminating information about
Scientology. Neither of these is a simple goal, and neither can be done
except after a long campaign. It could be argued, however, that the first
simple goal was to accomplish a real life protest, and this they did.
But there was no assumption of achieving any capitulation by Scientology
at this juncture.
The large number of participants at the first event also calls into question
Chong's notion that a core group is first needed before the bandwagon
and contagion people would join. Chong states that members
of a group will feel obligated to participate in a large-scale movement
only when it is clear that collective action is likely to survive and
have real meaning. (Chong, 1991, p. 93) Approximately 7000 people
came out worldwide to the first Project Chanology protest (Project Chanology,
2008). They had never collectively done a protest before, and the protests
of the long-time critics had been tiny in comparison. It does not appear
that many waited on the sidelines. According to Chong, what we tend
to observe is a gradual accretion in membership or participation in a
cause. Publicity about the initial engagements of the early participants
or encouraging results obtained by them gives the movement a shot in the
arm and attracts new recruits... (Chong, 1991, p. 132) The first
protest of Project Chanology was possibly the largest or second largest
of all the monthly protests to date. Chong's gradual growth theory does
Chong's point about favorable outcomes being needed to keep
participants is telling. Chong considers such outcomes to be when, for
instance, the Montgomery bus boycott succeeded (Chong, 1991). When the
opposing side gives in, that is a success. But Project Chanology has had
no such capitulation from Scientology. What has counted for a win
instead has been when a Scientologist or the church itself reacts poorly,
thus reinforcing the theory behind the protests that Scientology is as
bad as Anonymous claims it is. When such actions happen, it reinforces
commitment. In early November, 2008 a protester was assaulted by Scientology
guards who claimed the protester was trespassing. When videos of the assault
were put online, it prompted a participant to state that I'm raging
so bad right now i'm not even going to use bold fonts. I was sort of 'meh'
lately and wasnt sure if I wanted to go to Nov's raid [protest]. I know
I am now. CoS [Church of Scientology] crossed a line (again). (anon.il,
2008) It is typical on the forums when a protester is assaulted or Scientology
does something that reinforces Anonymous' view of the church that such
posts are made. This might be seen as analogous to cases during the civil
rights protests when protesters stood up to intimidation, as when the
lunch counter protesters gained more support the longer they continued,
despite taunting and attacks. Success in both cases is standing up to
the opposition's pressure.
For some aspects of Chong's theory, it is too early to tell how well Project
Chanology fits. The rate of contagion, for example, is needed to stay
at a certain level to keep the movement going as some people drop out.
Chong states that activists who see no dividend or results from their
participation will leave, and therefore the contagion of the movement
will diminish unless participants are periodically reinforced with favorable
outcomes. (Chong, 1991, p. 162) So far, the movement seems strong
despite there being no discernible change within Scientology. Participation
on forums is brisk. The numbers at protests have dropped perhaps 50% from
their peak but have been reasonably steady in the last months (estimate
by author). Time will tell how long Project Chanology will continue and
what format it may take in the future.
In summary, Chong's model helps explain the personal motivations of Anonymous
members in deciding whether to participate in Project Chanology. But his
model of how a collective action forms and maintains itself is not applicable
to Project Chanology. There was no leadership nor gradual accretion of
membership at the formation. The goals were sweeping and long-term rather
than simple and easily achieved. Other aspects were of slight importance
within Project Chanology while Chong considers them important, such as
the leader/follower dichotomy and the bandwagon contagion source
for most membership.
I would argue that Project Chanology is unique in its total structure,
or lack thereof, and its history. It appeared from a loosely-formed community
online that by its own determination preferred to be hidden. It made a
decision to form a collective action against a specific target, and within
one month had organized, declared its goals, and accomplished its first
real-life event in hundreds of locations around the world with around
7000 participants, against a formidable opponent. It utilized modern tools
and communication to powerful effect and has maintained its activity while
taking blows from its opponent. It has managed to create a large amount
of media coverage. And it has done this with no central leadership and
very loose local organizing.
CHAPTER 3 OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
The thing that all men should fear is that they
will become obsessed by a small
corner of truth and fail to comprehend its over-all principles.
(Watson, 1963, p. 121)
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM PROJECT CHANOLOGY
is essentially an underground community. They had never done any in-real-life
activity before Project Chanology, so there was little reason for Scientology
to think that any large movement was about to spring on them. And actually,
Anonymous hadn't planned on creating Project Chanology. Nevertheless,
a persistent, strong collective action did arise.
Anonymous is a large pool of people to draw from. If some other organization
or topic strikes their fancy, it is quite plausible that suddenly thousands
of people could once again take up a cause and hit the streets, creating
the next Project Chanology. And no doubt there are many such online communities
like Anonymous that could broadcast a call to arms and receive a large
Such communities need be nothing more than a popular place for sharing
information. As the above section on community shows, it doesn't take
much to have an online community, and it doesn't require much from the
participants to be a part of that community. There are probably thousands
of such communities online, some visible and some not. Each of them has
the potential to spawn a collective action. If an organization wanted
to monitor the Internet for possible signs of a collective action forming
against them, it would be quite difficult to monitor so many potential
sources even as it would be difficult to spot the signs that such collective
action was about to form.
Most Anons are aged from teenagers up to 30 years old or so. Don Tapscott
(2009) has studied this group that he calls the Net Generation, or Net
Gen. He claims that the Net Gen has been influenced greatly by the Internet.
They are more skeptical and careful of claims made, since they have had
to filter out spam, trolling, photoshopped photos, and the like that could
be misleading to the unaware. They have easy access to information to
check on any claims made. Net Geners like to collaborate. They like to
stay in touch with their social circle using the latest technologies.
They want things to have fun built into them, including work. They want
to be participants not passive. They have integrity and expect it from
Freedom of speech is a strong norm for the Net Geners. Tapscott gives
the example of the digg.com community reacting when the site apparently
failed to abide by this deep cultural rule:
The company faced a user revolt after it complied with a legal order
to remove from its web site a story that included the details of a software
key that could break the encryption code on high-definition DVDs. In
this instance, the Digg community apparently felt that integrity meant
placing more of a premium on freedom of speech than on the letter of
the law, and they wanted Digg to act in accordance with this expectation.
(Tapscott, p. 189-190)
Freedom of speech is what brought out many new critics of Scientology
in 1995 when Scientology attacked alt.religion.scientology. Freedom of
speech brought out Anonymous in 2008 when Scientology tried to stifle
the Tom Cruise video. On the Internet, it is wise not to be seen as an
enemy of free speech.
Tapscott sees the Net Generation as having the tools and personality to
make great changes in society. "I believe this generation will be
an unstoppable force for change in the country's political processes."
(Tapscott, p. 245) Because of their new way of seeing the world from the
Internet's influence on them, and the technological tools at their fingertips,
he sees Net Geners changing politics, commerce, employment, education,
and socialization worldwide. Anonymous is a subset of the Net Generation
with its own peculiarities. Tapscott's predictions for the Net Generation
fit well with the potential that Anonymous has shown.
Time magazine also singled out Internet users as the 2006 Person
of the Year. The Internet created a new cultural powerhouse. It
was a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen
before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the
million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace.
It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another
for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change
the way the world changes. (Grossman, 2006) The Internet is the
place where changes in society will arise. Project Chanology is a vision
of how those changes could unfold.
It is not possible to intentionally create a Project Chanology. Either
it spontaneously erupts or it doesn't. As Kevin Kelly states concerning
swarms, the trigger of a particular event is essentially unknowable.
Stuff happens. (Kelly, 1994, p. 23) You can post your Call to Arms
as happened in this case, and see what happens. But you're more likely
to get Not Your Personal Army than any battle cry. There is
no formula for creating such a collective action from such leaderless
Could such movements like Project Chanology be predicted? I don't think
so. It might be possible by looking at the conversations on a forum or
forums to see that a certain topic is causing a lot of attention and reaction.
This would be a potential topic that could build up enough interest to
spark activity. But even looking back at what sparked Project Chanology,
it is not clear to me just why Scientology was the one ripe topic that
could get Anonymous to build their first real-life activism.
The anonymity of Anonymous will most likely not be the norm for future
collective actions. But anonymity has helped Project Chanology in three
ways. First, it has protected protesters from being identified by Scientology
and then targeted for harassment. Second, it has made every member equal
to every other member, thus raising the status of the lowest member while
checking the status of any who seek notoriety or power. Third, it lessens
the effect of peer pressure or pressure from the opinions of others. If
someone wants to join or quit, there is no social pressure for them to
worry about in making that decision.
However, anonymity also means it is difficult to perform some tasks. If
you want to file a police report, or apply for a city permit, a name is
required. Journalists sometimes balk at interviewing someone who will
not give their name. In such situations in Project Chanology, one member
has usually chosen to be outed, or name-fagged, or a long-time
critic who is already known would perform the necessary tasks to preserve
the anonymity of others. In Anonymous' case, it is also a part of their
culture to be anonymous, so being outed lessens one's status for some.
The trade-offs between the advantages and disadvantages of anonymity would
have to be considered by any movement seeking to emulate Project Chanology.
There are also trade-offs in being leaderless. As with anonymity, being
leaderless puts everyone on an equal footing and cuts down on drama,
or the struggles for positions of power that can cause splits and internal
bickering. There is no need to expend effort on choosing hierarchical
structure nor on filling such positions. Resources normally expended on
catering to leadership are saved. But relying on consensus can also lead
to bickering and splits when a decision cannot be agreed upon. Having
a leader can mean quicker decision making and action, and a clearer outline
of future tasks. Having a leader means that a Martin Luther King, or a
Gandhi can provide direction and stability. But Anonymous will never have
its own King or Gandhi, and perhaps it is the weaker for this. Alternatively,
it will never have its Stalin or Mao either. The strength of such leaderless
collective actions is in their very nature. As James Suroweicki says the
best way for a group to be smart is for each person to think and act as
independently as possible. (Suroweicki, 2004, p. xix-xx) The groupthink,
or hive-mind that results produces the collective action found
in swarms, which can create a collective mind smarter than the parts.
On the other side of independent thinking, however, there is little real
control over individual participants. This has been a problem in some
places where individuals act in ways that are upsetting to others or even
may be counterproductive to the cause. Since there is no hierarchy nor
official membership, there is little power the group has over any wayward
member other than peer pressure. This is a weakness that I have not seen
Anonymous successfully handle. Severe reactions as to anyone calling themselves
a leader might influence some wayward members or scare them away, but
often such people are headstrong themselves and not easily swayed by peer
pressure. This is also a problem when some action is tagged as from Anonymous.
How can the public know if it was really Anonymous or just some individual
claiming to be from Anonymous? In this case, the collective can speak
out if need be and distance themselves from any particular action not
collectively agreed to.
This tension between the independence of members and accountability to
the group makes swarms difficult for humans. Ants, bees, and other swarm
animals only know how to live as swarms. Humans think independently. Decentralization
can become disorganization. Viewing Project Chanology as a test case for
whether the swarm turns into chaos, at this point it appears that chaos
is being kept at bay, but not completely. Arguments over someone claiming
a leadership position seem to be the largest hurdle. Individuals refusing
to bow to the general will of the collective is also a problem not easily
resolved. Still, Project Chanology is continuing with strength and general
Can Project Chanology be duplicated? My informants gave different answers.
One did not see anything new in this collective action from others, such
as Ron Paul's organizing methods online. Another thought that the anonymity
and leaderless aspects made duplication hard to do. Other activist
groups that try to use Chanology as a template may find themselves destroyed
by in-fighting, electronic attacks from opposition [within the community],
egotists trying to assume leadership and personality clashing. Another
said I believe Chanology has a unique spirit that can't be duplicated.
(Appendix A, question 27) This may be true. Perhaps only a community that
already is leaderless and accustomed to anonymity can bring forth a collective
action with those qualities.
In summary, collective action is easy to form and easy to do when it is
Internet based. This makes collective action more likely and potentially
more powerful once begun As more and more of these Internet based collective
actions succeed in their established goals, such success will breed attempts
at imitation. If Project Chanology succeeds in pressuring the Church of
Scientology into significantly altering its methods or its strength, more
people will look at Anonymous' actions and history for ideas on how to
mirror their success. Project Chanology already shows the surprising speed
and size that such collective actions can take. Such actions should be
expected more and more in the near future, but it will not be possible
to predict their creation.
COMPILATION OF QUESTIONNAIRE
Short list of Anonymous Memes
Anon a member of Anonymous
/b/tards those who hang out continually on www.4chan.org's
9000 an impossibly large number.
Butthurt upset, bothered.
CoS Church of Scientology
Epic win a victory, such as a successful protest.
Fag a derogatory term that is used so ubiquitously within
Anonymous that it essentially means person.
Hive-mind where two or more people express the same thought
at the same time. Alternatively, as consensus.
IRL In Real Life. Something done when you are not in front
of a keyboard and monitor.
Longcat a particular photo of a cat from the lolcat series
(www.icanhascheezburger.com) that has become a meme. Longcat sometimes
battles its evil nemesis, Tacgnol.
Lulz fun, humor, laughs. A major goal of Anonymous
Moralfag an Anon who does something for a righteous or
moral reason rather than for lulz or fun.
Namefagged within Project Chanology, when a person's anonymity
is destroyed, for instance to obtain a sound permit for a protest.
NYPA - not your personal army; a statement used to
reject a suggestion or order from a poster on a forum.
Rick-roll watching or listening to a Rick Astley song Never
Gonna Give You Up. If you can trick someone into watching the music
video, that is a great source of lulz.
Scilons - Scientologists
Legal Cease and Desist Notice (page 1)
Legal Cease and Desist Notice (page 2)
Flyer distributed in neighborhood
exposing (1 page)
Rules of the Internet (1 page)