By Evan Adamson, May 4, 2020
A for Anonymous: How a Mysterious Hacker Collective Transformed the World, David Kushner, Koren Shadmi (artist), Bold Type Books, March 31, 2020, 128 pp., $19.85
The birth and metamorphosis of what we now know as the hacking collective Anonymous is Rolling Stone contributing editor David Kushner’s most recent work. Koren Shadmi’s illustrations, utilizing the internet as a literal place, where individuals in black robes and masks stand upon strange pillars à la Wonder Woman’s invisible plane, paints a dark, industrial scene of modern-day activism.
Wearing the Guy Fawkes face coverings made popular by the movie and comic V for Vendetta, the masks are used as both a tool and a symbol–a tool to obfuscate personal identity of the hacker and a symbol of the unity of the collective.
To summarize the story of Anonymous in one review is not possible. From the Arab Spring in Egypt, to revelations about the Church of Scientology, to the activities in rural areas of the midwestern United States, Anonymous has taken on many fights.
A for Anonymous: How a Mysterious Hacker Collective Transformed the World contains a thorough breakdown of Anonymous’ response to the Steubenville rape case where, in a high-school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was publicly and repeatedly raped by two school football players as several of her other peers filmed it and posted it on social media.
With anecdotes from Anonymous protesters taking off the mask to reveal that “I too, was a victim” to the activists fighting amongst themselves, as elements of ego and self-righteousness tear at the inside of the Hacktivist movement, there are many sub-plots.
A Kentucky-based member of the collective known as KYAnonymous raised the alarm about what was being posted on the internet from Steubenville, Ohio. “Everybody stood around and watched this shit happen, and nobody did a f*cking thing! Something has to be done about Steubenville.”
After a trial, the two football players were found guilty and given one year and two years in jail, respectively.
In 2016, KYAnonymous “accepted a plea agreement, admitting to conspiring to hack the Steubenville High School Athletics website and lying to an FBI agent who was investigating the breach. In exchange, the prosecution dropped the hacking charge under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and [KYAnonymous received] two years in federal prison.”
In one dramatic turn against Sony, whose battle with Anonymous revolved around an individual’s right to modify a Playstation console (yes, it sounds silly, but the legal ramifications of whether one can hack into and change what one has purchased is very real). The majority of Anonymous were content to continue giving Sony trouble by organizing flash mobs and sending them false faxes, forcing their machines to run out of ink. During this time, however, the personal information of several Sony employees, as well as the judge presiding over the case, was released to the public to allow people to harass them in real life, aka doxxing. While Anonymous never took responsibility, Sony believes it was done on behalf of the hacking collective.
One comes away from this comic, not necessarily cheering on the Hacktivists as 21st century Robin Hoods, but neither vilifying them as dangerous anti-social IT geeks with too much time on their hands.
Instead, it paints a very real picture of an earnest group of people trying to make change for people at the very bottom of society. Their growth, from a small group of people, meeting in an old slaughterhouse to fight The Church of Scientology, to helping protesters in Egypt during the Arab Spring by sending a directory of ham radios to using fax machines to co-ordinate meetups on the ground as the government desperately tried to censor the internet, A for Anonymous paints a complex picture of a complex movement. Though, after reading this, you might want to say, “I am Anonymous.”
(Evan Adamson is a 20- something who has spent the past years consuming any political media he can get his hands on and enjoying manga, anime, and western media.)