From Indymedia to Anonymous: Agency, Public Spheres and Internet Action

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: 411
Oral Presentation
Kevin MCDONALD , Department of Criminology and Sociology, Middlesex Univesity, London, United Kingdom
The social sciences are polarised with regard to the internet and communicative action.  Some authors see blogging and social media as a form of circulation characteristic of communicative capitalism, shaped by a fear of emptiness and an illusion of action.  Others consider the internet to be structured in terms of openness and networking, and argue that such supposed technological qualities can ‘reverse engineer’ freedom.  More nuanced forms of this technological optimism are evident in many sociological studies of internet activism, with themes of horizontality, networks and openness widely repeated – themes central to many of the analyses of Indymedia, in particular by ‘scholar activists’.  What is striking in the period since is the decline of this kind of action, and the emergence of a quite different form of action evident in networks such as Anonymous.  These are grounded in hacker worlds, shaped by a culture of the ephemeral, the hidden and the revealed, with an ethic of lulz, the mask and the trickster.  This action takes completely different forms from the ‘open deliberation’ attributed to internet activism such as Indymedia.  This paper explores the emergence of Anonymous from its origins in a manga site and its initial campaign against Scientology, and considers to what extent this form of action, and the types of public spheres it creates, may extend beyond Internet cultures to point to wider transformations in public spheres and agency.