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WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists, takes us inside the complex culture and history of Anonymous. The film explores early hacktivist groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and Electronic Disturbance Theater, and then moves to Anonymous' own raucous and unruly beginnings on the website 4Chan. Through interviews with current members - some recently returned from prison, others still awaiting trial - as well as writers, academics and major players in various "raids," WE ARE LEGION traces the collective's breathtaking evolution from merry pranksters to a full-blown, global movement, one armed with new weapons of civil disobedience for an online world.Written by
What kind of documentaries are the best kind? For me, they're the kind that do their job and do it so well, so indisputably strong, and mesmerizing that they almost make you a more realized man for seeing them. A documentary's job is to make its viewer go from ignorant to informed; I should walk in oblivious and unknowing and emerge as if I read an opus with all the information on the subject I could ever want - at least enough to form a strong, valuable opinion on. Of course, with the abundance of short-documentaries, TV specials, and ones that tackle macro issues like gun control and healthcare, one needs to lower expectations to an achievable, more realistic level.
There is no need for expectations to be lowered for We are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists, a documentary that concerns the newfound "hacktivist" movement and the notorious band of cyber-protesters that call themselves "Anonymous." It's a spectacular, groundbreaking documentary that centers on the group, its formation, its goals and self-proclaimed "operations," and its surge of popularity on the internet and open-forum websites such as 4chan and Reddit. It provides one of the best pro/con debates, as well as some of the slickest arguments for why groups like this need to exist. I would say gangs like these are almost necessary to protect the rights of the people.
The film cherrypicks several different operations conducted by Anonymous - a group that is known not just for their controversial, highly-technical actions but ominous videos and Guy Fawkes masks - to allow the viewer the insight not so much if they're good or bad but how impacting they are. Their first major operation was attacking the Church of Scientology after they demanded the website Gawker to remove a video of Tom Cruise praising the religion. Anonymous saw this as an attack on free speech and staged elaborate server attacks on the church's site as well as protests at their churches around the world. But how did Anonymous form and how did these attacks come to fruition? Through the same tool the group uses to get their ideology across; the internet. Through sites like 4chan and Reddit that predicate off of the anonymity of their users and commit. Through the use of different sections for users to share their interests and talk about their ideas and even stage meetups around the world. That's how.
Another operation the group conducted were the protests against the famous internet bills called the "Protect IP Act" and the "Stop Online Piracy Act," which threatened a more government-regulated web. Others include questionable things such as hacking Sarah Palin's email, the websites of major credit cards for denying donations to WikiLeaks amid controversy, and even shutting down the PlayStation Network when a young man was handed a lawsuit for tampering with the network.
One of the many issues that has brewed with Anonymous is how disorganized it really is. Anyone from anyone where in the world can call themselves Anonymous and no stratification exists in the group. It's a global, leaderless group of people who are each advocating for what seems to be different things. While they can seem helpful and germane to the idea of democracy (WikiLeaks and the Church of Scientology), they also can appear just as harmful with immature little publicity stunts likely staged by a whole different group of people trying to call themselves a larger group of people. It's a messy set of circumstances.
Do I personally support Anonymous? It depends. When they're advocating for civil liberties and preservation of freedom, most definitely do I see them as helpful and necessary. It's when I see them staging childish attacks on political figures and public ordinance do I wince. Their powers are ones that can easily be taken for granted and perhaps we the people should protect them while we can.
I recently gave a thirty-five minute presentation on the rise, history, and crucial points on "hacktivism" - promoting political/social issues using technology - in my sociology class and used this film as the basis of my argument and format. One of my points was that no matter who is doing the hacking or what their justification may be, it will always be viewed as a deviant practice. You could say the group Anonymous is breaking the law and should be severely punished, but it that a fair thing to do fro someone who's allegedly protecting your rights? The answer, as always, is left up to you, dear reader.
The full film, We are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists, can be viewed on Youtube free of charge. It is something of your American right to do so, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arQRSjlDzDc
Directed by: Brian Knappenberger.
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