We Are All Anonymous
Gabriella Coleman, David Auerbach, and James Grimmelmann discuss the culture and politics of anonymity online
May 23, 2012
Doors 7:00 p.m., conversation 7:30 p.m., $5 suggested donation
What is the logic of Anonymous, the online army, agent of chaos, and seeker of justice? What is the relationship between the online message board 4chan, the legacy of Internet masquerade, and Occupy Wall Street? What does the thriving culture of anonymity online tell us about the depravations of Facebook and those who profit from it? Anthropologist and technology critic Gabriella Coleman and critic and programmer David Auerbach will discuss these questions and their recent articles in Triple Canopy with lawyer and technologist James Grimmelmann.
“Sometimes coy and playful, sometimes macabre and sinister, often all at once, Anonymous is still animated by a collective will toward mischief,” Coleman writes in her essay “Our Weirdness Is Free.” Coleman has spent the past four years studying Anonymous, the hacktivist group that has recently targeted the MPAA, the RIAA, the former government of Tunisia, and the Church of Scientology, and figured prominently in the Occupy Wall Street movement. “While Anonymous has not put forward any programmatic plan to topple institutions or change unjust laws, it has made evading them seem easy and desirable. To those donning the Guy Fawkes mask associated with Anonymous, this—and not the commercialized, ‘transparent’ social networking of Facebook—is the promise of the Internet, and it entails trading individualism for collectivism.”
Anonymous emerged from the rich (and sordid) world of online message and image boards such as 4chan, which Auerbach identifies as A-culture: a space formed in opposition to recognition, prestige, and celebrity—in other words, what we so often imagine to define social life online. “The growth of these anonymous spaces marks the first wide-scale collective gathering of those who are alienated, disaffected, voiceless, and just plain unsocialized,” Auerbach writes in “Anonymity as Culture,” his incisive study of the denizens of the Internet’s nether regions and their attitudes toward homosexuality, suicide, hate, and Brazilian scat-porn. “These are people whose tweets will not make the headlines. They do not wish to create a platform that enables them to be heard by the world; they want to shut out the world.”
We Are All Anonymous also marks the publication of Triple Canopy‘s first e-book, Here Comes Nobody: Essays on Anonymous, 4chan and the Other Internet Culture, which compiles Auerbach and Coleman’s articles and is available for the Kindle.
This event is supported in part by the Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York Council for the Humanities.
Gabriella Coleman examines the ethics of online collaboration and institutions as well as the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism. Her first book, Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and the Ethics of Hacking, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press; she is currently working on a book about Anonymous and digital activism. She is the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University’s Department of Art History & Communication Studies.
David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer living in New York. His essays have been published in the Times Literary Supplement, n+1, Triple Canopy, the Quarterly Conversation, and the Millions. He blogs at Waggish.
James Grimmelmann is an associate professor at New York Law School and a member of its Institute for Information Law and Policy. He studies how the law governing the creation and use of computer software affects individual freedom and the distribution of wealth and power in society. He writes about intellectual property, virtual worlds, search engines, online privacy, and other topics in computer and Internet law. He blogs at the Laboratorium.