Insidiae, Psychologia, Et Liber Pericula
I have been watching Anonymous for a while now and I think that its time to discuss some observations I have had lately. It seems that after some time, the Anon collective has, even though there have been arrests, decided that, as they say, “You can’t arrest an idea” I have wondered though, just how many of the Anon’s actually perceive this as a war against government tyranny and how many just do it for the lulz. This is the crux of the issue frankly for me and I have been thinking about this for some time trying to gather data to form my hypothesis.
What I have come up with are the following motivations and constructs that I believe the Anonymous collective live by and use to rationalize their behavior.
Group Think is a term for a social and psychological dynamic in groups to harmonize their actions causing deficiency of mental efficiency. Signs of group think are the following:
- Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
- Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
- Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
- Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
- Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
- Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
- Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
- Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
A distinct feature of group think is that it is exacerbated by a lack of clear rules on decision making. It is my contention that the diaspora of anonymous inherently has the of decision making rules as well as a large amount of group think dynamics within its younger set. The group as a whole though may not mean the total “group” (i.e. Anonymous rank and file) but whatever group has collected to decide on an “op”
Also, given the nature of the Anonymous collective as seen online, they tend to not be very forgiving toward those they do not like or disagree with. This fractiousness and tendencies toward berating behaviour tend to re-enforce the group think model.
The term “Collective Psychopathy” is something that when I looked it up online I only found a couple of references to Freud and ego. I am guessing others have made the connection but perhaps there is no official designation made.. Maybe I just missed it in the literature. The core of the idea for me is that collectively, groups like anonymous can manifest a sociopathic or psychopathic potential in certain circumstances. In the case of the actions of Anonymous actors online in their dialogues and statements, they manifest key features of what is considered psychopathic behaviours.
Psychopathy is a mental disorder characterised primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. Psychopaths are highly prone to antisocial behaviour and abusive treatment of others, and are very disproportionately responsible for violent crime. Though lacking empathy and emotional depth, they often manage to pass themselves off as normal people by feigning emotions and lying about their pasts.
While in the real world interactions of all of these individuals may in fact be not at all psychopathic in nature (though, they may be depending on the person) the “online” personae that the individual takes on tends to have psychopathic tendencies due to the medium of the Internet. The key factors of this transition are the following;
- You are “anonymous” so it is easy to lie
- Any damage you inflict is not in person
- There generally is a “lesser” possibility of repercussions for your actions due to anonymity and technology issues
Given the chance, anyone will act outside their particular moralities when placed in situations where repercussions are near null. This is something that has recently been studied in the Psychology of Character by DeSteno and Valdesolo. Their findings are that often, given the opportunity, a person will commit to acts outside of their character if there are no repercussions. It is my belief that this also can be applied to the online activities of individuals as well as collectively (i.e. Anonymous)
It is this very set of features to online behaviour and nature, that be-gets the potential for a collective to work with leadership, and group think, to actions that the individuals might not ordinarily partake in because there would be repercussions, they would be directly inflicting damage, and they would certainly not be anonymous. Thus, collectively, within these parameters, the group dynamics and the disconnect from reality allows the individual to join the collective without really being forced to consider what their actions outcomes would be on a personal level.
Age and Development
Another factor in this picture of collective psychopathy is the age of the individuals and their development levels. Many of the Anon’s have tended to be younger individuals and as such, they are not “fully cooked” according to physiology and psychology. It has been stated that the development of the brain (the static fixing of neural pathways) does not on average finish until the individual is approximately in their latter twenties. This also means that within the teens up until the time the brain is finished developing, that the individual has a higher tendency to be unable to make rational decisions;
Specifically, a teen’s prefrontal cortex – the piece of brain right behind the forehead that is involved in complex decision making – is not capable of the kind of reasoning that allows most grown-ups to make rational decisions.
Thus, it is easier to look toward the collective psychopathy theory given the individuals propensity for lack of reasoning and the conditions that the Internet afford for anonymously motivated behaviour. It is also easier to concede that said younger individuals who wish to belong to a community or to “be cool” also would be more amenable to the ideas put forth by the collective due to the lack of rational thought processes as well as critical thinking to take part in high risk behaviour.
Simply put, the median age of the collective and the nature of its environment allow for them to run amok as well as dissociate the reality from the unreality of the Internet. It was also key to note that the use of LOIC even though it did nothing to obfuscate the end user’s IP address could be perceived as part of this picture.
Social Mores (individual and group)
Added to all of this, is the culture of the Internet itself. As it is a virtual reality, it also has its own set of mores on the social level. Where in reality some things are taboo, online, they may be just another everyday thing. Social norms are not the same within the net as opposed to open society. Within the context of Anonymous, one just needs look further back to the progenitor of all of this, 4chan, where a laissez-faire attitude abounds about many things that are socially unacceptable in the real world versus the virtual.
Examples of this can be seen from trolling, to the explicit content on the site matched with language that connotes hate speech as well as apathy or hostility toward social norms in regular society.
De-Humanisation through Language & Imagery
With the social mores being different from normal society, one can also see within the Internet and the dialogues online between elements of the Anonymous collective, a pattern of de-humanising speech. The use of the invective “nig” or “nigger” in chats from Anonymous seems to be the parlance of the venue as much as it is an epithet. This co-option of the slur performs another means of de-humanising a person that they are speaking to or about online. I hardly think that many of these individuals would in fact use the word and others like it within the non virtual world for fear of repercussions. However, within the confines of the virtual world that they think they rule, this is a weapon as well as a mode of speech.
Additionally, one might also look at the 4chan boards to see imagery also that is on the same level and may be considered hate speech in our society at large but thought nothing more of online by the denizens there. This is all part of the segregation of online and off-line personae that give the individuals and the collective, to act freely without remorse. Had Goebbels had the Internet, his propaganda would have been much more effective to a larger audience not only because of the connectivity, but also from the social and reality distancing that the Internet provides.
Conspiracy Theories And The Echo Chamber
Lastly, the rationalisation lately by Anonymous and LulzSec has been that they are fighting the good fight against government and corporate conspiracies. As seen from the response to the FBI recently below;
LulzSec and Anonymous Statement
Hello thar FBI and international law authorities, We recently stumbled across the following article with amazement and a certain amount of amusement: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/20/138555799/fbi-arrests-alleged-anonymous-hackers
The statements made by deputy assistant FBI director Steve Chabinsky in this article clearly seem to be directed at Anonymous and Lulz Security, and we are happy to provide you with a response. You state:
“We want to send a message that chaos on the Internet is unacceptable, [even if] hackers can be believed to have social causes, it’s entirely unacceptable to break into websites and commit unlawful acts.”
Now let us be clear here, Mr. Chabinsky, while we understand that you and your colleagues may find breaking into websites unacceptable, let us tell you what WE find unacceptable:
- Governments lying to their citizens and inducing fear and terror to keep them in control by dismantling their freedom piece by piece.
- Corporations aiding and conspiring with said governments while taking advantage at the same time by collecting billions of funds for federal contracts we all know they can’t fulfil.
- Lobby conglomerates who only follow their agenda to push the profits higher, while at the same time being deeply involved in governments around the world with the only goal to infiltrate and corrupt them enough so the status quo will never change.
These governments and corporations are our enemy. And we will continue to fight them, with all methods we have at our disposal, and that certainly includes breaking into their websites and exposing their lies. We are not scared any more. Your threats to arrest us are meaningless to us as you cannot arrest an idea. Any attempt to do so will make your citizens more angry until they will roar in one gigantic choir. It is our mission to help these people and there is nothing – absolutely nothing – you can possibly to do make us stop.
“The Internet has become so important to so many people that we have to ensure that the World Wide Web does not become the Wild Wild West.”
Let me ask you, good sir, when was the Internet not the Wild Wild West? Do you really believe you were in control of it at any point? You were not. That does not mean that everyone behaves like an outlaw. You see, most people do not behave like bandits if they have no reason to. We become bandits on the Internet because you have forced our hand. The Anonymous bitchslap rings through your ears like hacktivism movements of the 90s. We’re back – and we’re not going anywhere.
This use and belief of the conspiracies against the “people” is a telling thing. While others have used religion, Anonymous has latched on to conspiracy theories as their aegis. Just like religion, a conspiracy theory is hard to disprove because the individual can always rationalise that some other piece of the puzzle is still missing and the conspiracy, or belief, lives on. Both of these things are hard to disprove as well as debunk because of rationalising that its adherents latch on to so they continue to believe and act under the apprehension that there is either a God, or some other force at work (government cabal’s) that control their lives in some way.
In the echo chamber of Anonymous and the internet, this use of and belief in the conspiracies has given many of the anon’s a construct of belief to latch onto that perhaps they lacked in the real world. Just as well, this belief and the ability to take action online with impunity (perceived) has energized them to take action, then rationalise further toward more and larger actions.
The net effect is that this all becomes self perpetuating…
The conclusion to all of this for me is that truly, the statement that Anonymous is an “idea” is true. It is an idea formed by individuals that coalesced into a group that in turn has become a splinter society online. *note: Even when they want to protest in the real world, they want their anonymity with masks* This society has its own norms and mores that are counter to the one we live in outside of the net. The denizens of this world are often young and biologically not fully capable of rational/logical thought and swayed by the sense of belonging to something as well as a desire to reject the cultural norms of the real world.
All of this, in tandem with a sense of invincibility has lead them to take actions counter to the culture outside of the Internet and directly affect the outside world because the online world holds so much of our real life data today. Due to the disconnect and the “othering” that goes on within this community (i.e. the contention of psychopathy) these individuals are disconnected from the realities of what they are doing and thus feel nothing other than the potential fears that they “may” be caught in real life. However, this seems to be lesser of a fear as they go along upping the ante and still getting away with it en mass.
The idea and the reality are two different things.