Collaborative Futures


  • You do not talk about Anonymous.
  • You do NOT talk about Anonymous. (Wikis are fine though. FEAR US.)
  • Anonymous works as one, because none of us are as cruel as all of us.
  • Anonymous is everyone.
  • Anonymous does it for the lulz.
  • Anonymous cannot be out-numbered, Anonymous out-numbers you.
  • Anonymous is a hydra, constantly moving, constantly changing. Remove one head, and nine replace it.
  • Anonymous reinforces its ranks exponentially at need.
  • Anonymous has neither leaders nor anyone with any higher stature.
  • Anonymous has no identity.
  • Anonymous is Legion.
  • Anonymous does not forgive.
  • Anonymous does not forget.
13 of the 41 entries in the Sekrit Code of Anonymous

In this section we’re breaking the first two rules of the Sekrit Code of Anonymous <>. When others have done this in the past it has brought down the wrath of this shadowy group of anonymous individuals, causing public humiliation, hacked servers, and other florid forms of chaos.

Anonymous is a collection of individuals that post anonymously on /b/ <>, a section of the image board When you post content on a typical message board, you are often required to enter your name. If you don’t, your entry is attributed to “anonymous”. On /b/ everyone posts as “anonymous”. The collective actions of users identified with the name anonymous aggregates into the collective identity Anonymous.

The majority of Anonymous’ activity is visible only to Anonymous. The members trade images and jokes between one another on 4chan and other sites. They traffic in pornography, shock imagery, and inane jokes. They collect and distribute the oddities of the web. However, Anonymous is also responsible for occasional external, organized actions—ranging from pranks done “for the lulz”, to large scale activist projects. The most visible and longest lived of such projects is called Project Chanology, and is a large scale, distributed war on The Church of Scientology. The first major incident in this war was Anonymous’ distribution of a “internal-use only” video featuring Tom Cruise, and Scientology’s attempted suppression of the same. Soon after, the declaration of war was made formal, and posted to YouTube (anonymously, of course). Narrated by a text-to-speech generator, the video outlines Anonymous’ issues with Scientology:

“Hello, Scientology. We are Anonymous.

Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who trust you, who call you leader, has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind—for the laughs—we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.”

Since then, Anonymous has mounted repeated electronic attacks on Scientology websites, coupled with large scale protests outside of Scientology centers across the world. Throughout this large scale, coordinated, goal oriented collective action no one has emerged as the leader to speak for the group. In fact, no one has spoken to the press at all, though the press has reported extensively on the events. The only communiques come in the form of anonymously posted videos and anonymous posts to /b/ with instructions for when to protest, how to conduct yourself during the protests, what to wear, etc.

In this book we attempt to articulate what constitutes a collaboration. We argue that rules for participation, established guidelines for attribution, organizational structure and leadership, and clear goals are necessary for collaboration. In most cases, when we think of these attributes, we think of manifestos of artist and activist groups, attempts to govern attribution by formal licenses like the Free Culture and Free Software licenses, Debian’s formal decision making process, or Eric Raymond’s notion of a Benevolent Dictator that characterizes Linus Torvald’s governance over Linux.

What is fascinating about Anonymous, is that at first glance, it appears they have none of these: They are often portrayed as a band of predominantly young white male renegade hackers raining chaos on random corners of the Internet with no logic or reason. They have even been called Terrorists. But in fact, their Sekrit Code establishes clear rules. Participation requires posting as Anonymous and not talking about Anonymous. Attribution is strictly collective and anonymous under a unified group identity. The organizational structure is clear: There are no “leaders nor anyone with any higher stature.” The code even establishes goals: “the lulz” adapted from “LOL”, in short, for kicks.

Anonymous has operated under rules that are directly opposed to the rules that have governed most successful large-scale collaborations. How then do goals as broadly defined as “the lulz” become defined and articulated into a goal like the intent to “systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology”? How can an organization with no leaders articulate and execute such an ambitious and “long, long campaign”? How can the enforced absence of any structure as a governing principle result in such effective and coordinated action?

Is this a possible collaborative future? If so, it is a terrifying one in which anonymity and structurelessness permits total absolution of social responsibility, terrorizing of innocent outsiders, and harassment of those who provide public feedback, criticism and indeed even speak of the group (“You do not talk about anonymous”). It is a P2P, collaborative, digitized “Lord of the Flies” wherein boys’ games devolve into violence for fun. In the perpetual techno-utopian dialectic, this is the feared dystopian future we hope will be avoided, as we aim for the utopia that we can never actually arrive at.