Review: "We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists"

As a tech savvy guy, I have followed the exploits of Anonymous for quite some time.  Some of the things they have done I’ve cheered on, some things here and there I might disagree with, but that’s life.
We Are Legion is a new documentary by Brian Knappenberger that explains Anonymous and shows some of the major events that they have been involved in up through 2011.  

For those not in the know, Anonymous is a group of people that have collected on the internet to help protect it in its current form and protect it from censorship.  One major misconception about Anonymous needs to be cleared up.  A large percentage of Anonymous are not hackers.  Most of them are just people (usually young adults) that are on the internet that want to stop censorship.  Remember SOPA?  Its acts like that which they are out to prevent.   That being said, the organization isn’t really organized with a leader.  What happens is someone will notice what they perceive to be “fuckery” that they bring up to the rest of Anonymous.  After it has been thoroughly researched, if enough people are against it, they will create an operation (sometimes also called a project).  Those anonymous that back the operation will participate however they like, but there are usually guidelines, and strategies agreed upon by the community.

The movie shows Anonymous starting out on 4Chan’s message boards where most people just post as anonymous.  For the uninitiated, 4Chan is similar to Reddit though predating it by quite a bit.  It’s an interesting site that can take offensive to the next level.  Do not go to this site if you are at work.

We Are Legion continues on through some small hacks here and there until the fight with Scientology happened.  Back in early 2008 Tom Cruise made a video discussing Scientology, but it wasn’t meant for public consumption.  Somehow it was leaked, then posted all over the internet.  As soon as videos were posted the church of Scientology was able to have them pulled.  Anonymous had a problem with anybody being able to censor the internet so they brought the fight to Scientology, both online and in public.  The documentary uses video’s taken by Anon’s around the globe at their public protests in front of Scientology churches.  Thousands of people showed up across different cities to show solidarity.

Everything isn’t all fun and games for them though.  Just like any protest, things go wrong and people get arrested.   The documentary covered a little bit of the US Vs. Brian Thomas Mettenbrink case, where Brian plead guilty to assisting in taking down the Scientology website using a simple program he left running on his computer over the weekend.  He was sentenced to 1 year in jail, and 1 year of supervised release after jail.  The video discusses how cyber attacks can have an average sentence of 15 years, while Pedophilia has an average sentence of 11 years.  Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it?

This came from a video made after the Tunisian revolution, where protesters thanked Anonymous for helping support them.

The film goes on to show that Anonymous isn’t just stopping censorship in the US.  They helped in Tunisia and in Egypt to show what was actually happening in the country during times of protest in the Arab spring.  When Mubarak shut down the internet access, Anonymous assisted in getting people back online through nontraditional means.

The documentary doesn’t just cover the good things that Anonymous has done.  It also covers some of the bad.  At one point there was a spin off group called LulzSec.  LulzSec wasn’t just hacking due to censorship issues.  As they put it, they did things “for the Lulz”.  For 50 days they hacked different sites.  Some of them government related, others were just business’s.  Some of the info they had stolen in the hacks were personal information of people including credit card numbers which LulzSec released.

Examples of hacks Anonymous pulled off

While I like Anonymous for the most part, I do think that there are some misguided souls that need to really educate themselves on who they are affecting and why.  Some of the Anons interviewed in the documentary seemed very intelligent, and they understood what they were saying and getting into, but I’m not really sure about all of them.  Hopefully it’s just because they are young.  At least they are doing something they believe in one way or another which is more than I can say for most people today.

All in all, I definitely recommend seeing this film when you get a chance.  It will have limited screenings around the country starting early October, and will go VOD (video on demand) on October 30th.  Aside from this documentary, if you are looking for more information about Anonymous, from Anonymous members check out Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank Podcast #79.

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