The following text is a “remix” (following a strict and quite sacred axiom from the Kopimistic “faith”) of Biella Coleman brushing off of her shoulders. I don’t believe it’s fair to dismiss her academic work because she’s been “sucked into the Anonymous cult,” and she actually goes out of her way to explain that her status as a “spokesperson” and a “member?” of Anonymous is merely a necessary part of continuing her research. Fair enough! I can’t wait until this research is over and she can finally speak her mind.
Until then, enjoy this sacred Kopimistic remix!
It was December 2010, and my plans were simple: finish my book manuscript on the politics of free and open-source software hacking and spend time with my family on an island off the coast of Washington State. That is, until Anonymous once again reared its head. While family members went hiking during the day and watched movies late into the night, I huddled over my laptop obsessed with Anonymous: a name and a cluster of ideals taken by different individuals and groups to organize distinct and often unrelated actions, from fearsome pranks to human rights technology activism.
No doubt my research appeared rather lifeless to those around me; but what I was witnessing on Internet Relay Chat (IRC)—the central nervous system of so many geek and hacker interactions— was anything but boring. In early January, my silence came to end when a handful of Anons singled me out:
You have been kicked by A2: (hi biella, could you DM me on twitter please? thanks!)
biella: sorry about that i was away cooking
After this conversation, I chimed in more frequently, spending on average about five hours a day on IRC, roughly following six to twelve IRC channels at once, seven days a week. Over the course of a mere fifteen minutes in a single chatroom, people might be joking about ‘fapping’ (aka masturbation), holding a serious discussion about the latest anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress, answering questions posed by a visiting reporter, launching virulent accusations against individuals, and greeting the visiting anthropologist. While I ask Anons targeted questions, I also go with the flow, doing as everyone else around seems to be doing.
Despite the playful, sometimes brazen, and often boisterous atmosphere of laughter, pleasure, and verbal play common to IRC, Anonymous is still rather serious business, Which brings us to the second form of labor and interactivity crucial to gaining respect on the network. I can hold my own on IRC and I rather like chatting on IRC, which may explain why I have chosen to study geek and hacker worlds: collective worlds that are inseparable, at some fundamental level, from this communicative architecture. But at a certain point, it became patently obvious that my research was rather more complicated than simply “hard chatting on IRC.” I was also putting some labor into the collective pot. Indeed, I hold the dubious distinction of teaching roughly two dozen reporters how to find Anonymous and how to get on IRC to interview them. For most of the winter and spring of 2011, I helped shuttle reporters onto the channel designated for them.
I subjected myself to the mindless repetition of being interviewed over eighty times by journalists. I have answered the same questions over and over again in print, in TV and in film interviews. But it is always a question of cunning and craft as to how, where, and when to make statements about Anonymous. Since I am hyper-aware Anons will critically asses, even at times dissect my statements, I am quite deliberate in what I say and don’t say in public, as I know this will affect and shape my access to them. This does not mean I am simply cowered into silence. Do these interactions—deliberate public media work and spontaneous socializing on IRC—make me Anonymous?