The visual rhetoric of Anonymous networks

Curator's Note

The slides in this collection are from a digital archive I created during the process of conducting my dissertation research on the image politics of Anonymous. My interest in Anonymous was sparked by a protest image I could not explain. In the image, a person in a mask holds a sign with a hand drawn teddy bear that reads: “Don’t worry, we are from the Internet.” My desire to learn what the bear signifies and how it relates to Guy Fawkes led me down a rabbit hole that I am still exploring. A core strength of Anonymous networks is their ability to give material life to digital memes. For example, the headless suit that features in Anonymous web defacements and recruiting materials is worn by people attending physical protests. Many activists carry hand-made signs that reproduce memes and slogans such as “We are Legion.” The mask of Guy Fawkes is a core symbol of Anonymous artwork and physical protests. Guy Fawkes is a historic figure whose death is celebrated annually in the British Commonwealth. Fawkes found new life in a graphic novel made more famous by a Hollywood version of the book that reimagines the solitary character of “V” as the leader of a movement. V’s defense of digital privacy and efforts to fight a dictatorial surveillance state are consistent with the sentiments of many people who identify with Anonymous. It is important to note that the collection here also reflects the role that Anonymous symbols have played in diverse political arenas and protests around the globe. Graffiti in Egypt during the Arab Spring contains references to Anonymous. Similarly, anti-government protests in Turkey saw many protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Images of these events circulate quickly through global social media networks in real time as attendees re-circulate their experiences and images at physical protests. Polish Parliamentarians, anti-rape activists in Steubenville, Ohio, Palestinian rights activists, anti-Scientology protesters and scores of other causes demonstrate the transnational significance of Anonymous as an idea and the importance of Anonymous networks for digital activism.

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