He has a name straight out of a Harry Potter book: journalist trainee Andrew Riddle, Australia.
I’ll like to introduce him here as part of a new series called “guys with guts”.
Who is Anonymous?
When Nina Funnell was bashed, strangled and narrowly escaped rape, she thought telling her story was the most responsible thing she could do. What she was not prepared for was mockery.
An anonymous online group posted her picture alongside a poll asking how “rapeable” she was. Some responded “she is heaps hot and I would totally rape her”; others that “she’s too fugly, I wouldn’t bother raping her from even behind with a box cutter blade” (the manner in which she was attacked). One responded, “what a conceited bitch for thinking she is even worthy of being raped, The guy just probably wanted to give her a good bashing in which case job well done.”
Who could be so callous, so misogynistic, so cruel? Anonymous, that’s who.
n the years since the internet went mainstream, a new generation has grown up expecting the freedom to say and do as they wish online. Many of them see the internet as a place completely devoid of morality and consequences.
They call themselves “The Anonymous”. They congregate on the imageboards which sprang up early in the decade. They ooze world-weariness and the cheap cynicism of middle-class teenagers; they identify each other through endless in-jokes or “memes”. They were exposed to pornography and imagery of all sorts from an early age, and it holds no fear for them. In the world of Anonymous, only outsiders, the old and the feeble-minded take offence – and they had it coming.
Most disturbing is the deep misogyny which has become the norm within this culture. Rape is a joke; women are habitually referred to as “cumdumpsters”. If a female joins in, she is told “tits or GTFO” (as in, post pictures of your breasts or get the f*** out).
So who are they?
Encyclopaedia Dramatica (ED) CEO Joseph Evers knows a thing or two about Anonymous. His US-based site, which began as a lampoon of the self-serious Wikipedia, has become a sort of moving cultural record of the Anonymous world, attracting massive amounts of page traffic and intense controversy.
He sees the Anonymous culture as an expression of middle- and working-class disenchantment. “Young people are overwhelmingly looking at the life their parents led, and how hard they worked, and what they got for it – which was garbage, y’know? – and you work like a slave, and you barely get to eke out a standard of living, and hopefully, you won’t end up in crippling debt at the end of your life. No one wants to buy that garbage anymore, and they’re expressing their discontent.”
Other clues lie both in the culture’s endless self-mythologising and self-parody. Anonymous calls itself alternatively “the final boss of the internet” and “internet superheroes” – yet members of Anonymous are often referred to as “basement dwellers”, invoking the stereotypical image of an obese man who lives in his parents’ basement.
There is certainly the desire within the Anonymous community to be seen as noble. Occasional mass actions have been organised, usually in defence of free speech. For example, in “Project Chanology” beginning in January 2008, members of Anonymous declared war on the Church of Scientology, in response to its efforts to censor an embarrassing video of Tom Cruise through legal action. Members disrupted the Church’s activities with pickets and elaborate pranks.
Similarly, in February this year, “Operation Titstorm” struck at the Australian government over the planned internet filter, bringing down departmental websites and spamming offices with pornography.
However, such noble intentions are more often derided – Project Chanology is now considered “moralfaggotry”, and is more likely to be referred to with disgust than admiration. Any attempt to stand up for women by an Anonymous member is howled down as “white knighting” – one of the culture’s most contemptuous epithets.
The culture defines itself with its outsider status – the uninitiated are referred to as NORPs (normal ordinary responsible people). A popular description of the typical member of Anonymous says “you find women disappointingly pretty”. Anonymous members feel like drones, surplus men who will never find love, so they console themselves with endless consumption of pornography, and strike back at those distant, pretty creatures where they can.
An honest man would admit that their misogyny is not entirely unfamiliar – it reeks of the heady regressive-masculinity vibe that arises when men in the company of men egg each other on to greater heights of crassness. It can be observed in the military, or a workshop, or the NRL; something similar was uncovered in the elite colleges of the University of Sydney recently when male students started a “pro-rape” Facebook group.
What seems unique is the way Anonymous confronts the vulnerable. Anonymity itself might be to blame; it lends a false courage that leads to this sort of behaviour.
Also, in these other scenarios, the men are often separated from women, but the lack of geographical space between the anonymous sites and the broader internet make it easier for this misogyny to spill out.
Of course, anonymity makes it hard to draw the line between real and make-believe. It is not uncommon for a user to post on an Anonymous site claiming to be about to commit suicide, to respond to their own post with deliberately cruel and callous remarks, and then return a few days later pretending to be a bereaved relative. Perhaps many of those attacking and insulting women online see it as merely an extension of this game, separated from real consequences.
Or perhaps the most important factor is the way anonymity makes the actions of individuals seem like they belong to the collective. Or as Anonymous puts it: “none of us is as cruel as all of us”.