The “hacktivist” group Anonymous thrives on chaos and surprise, which makes their recent promise to schedule online attacks every Friday somewhat puzzling. Earlier this month, affiliates of the loosely organized group hacked an FBI conference call, leaked documents from a law firm they found unsavory, and temporarily crashed the CIA’s website as part of what they’re calling Fuck FBI Friday or #FFF. But are constant, relatively small-potatoes hacks lessening the sting of their mischief?
“[E]ach and every Friday we will be launching attacks … with the specific purpose of wiping as many corrupt corporate and government systems off our internet,” one hacker told Wired, noting that there’s “no foreseeable end in sight.” So far today, the group has bragged about taking down the websites of an FBI affiliate in Ohio and the King of Spain. Sites for the International Monetary Fund and the National Association of Retired Military Personnel may have also been compromised.
Surely this is inconvenient for each individual target, but as part of a larger narrative — one that has included national news-making attacks on the Church of Scientology and Sony Pictures, plus a presence in the Occupy Wall Street protests — these moves seem low-impact, and could even be doing a disservice to the brand.
Hackers, as a media phenomenon, succeed by demonstrating to the world how fragile web security is, thereby making themselves a shadowy, frightening presence. The director of the National Security Agency, perhaps engaging in a bit of fear-mongering, even said recently that the group could possibly take down power grids in the U.S. “The group has never listed a power blackout as a goal, but some federal officials believe Anonymous is headed in a more disruptive direction,” The Wall Street Journal noted. But once the point has been made about vulnerabilities, constantly calling attention to smaller actions could be a waste of Anonymous’s cachet. Average Internet users don’t care about the King of Spain’s website, and constantly crashing pages for a few minutes at a time might lessen the impact of future hacks.
Anonymous’s visibility ebbs and flows based on what they do to get their name in the news. Behind the scenes, participants likely don’t see it that way— the group is amorphous enough that something is always going on, and media attention isn’t necessarily a goal; hackers like to say they do it strictly “for the lulz.” But there are indications, like this Gawker report, that the movement isn’t entirely free-form. Leadership is plotting and strategizing, and part of that, for any organization, is managing the public consciousness about your project. Putting trouble-making on a schedule not only isn’t very anarchic, it could make people stop paying attention.