The Strategy of Anonymity

(vanzetti’s ghost) “[The hackers] attack from the shadows and they have no fear of retaliation. There are no rules of engagement in this kind of emerging warfare.”~Charles Dodd, US government consultant on IT security

Recent events warrant warrant this discussion to say the least. Recently there have been the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as internet censorship by a list of other countries. Also there was security firm HBGARY’s (pretty much failed) attempt at doxing or finding and revealing the personal information of members of anonymous. Not to mention the grand jury that has just started reviewing evidence against “members of Anonymous”. And a certain government consultant’s statement about the “cyberwar”. People who stay anonymous and do something are generally considered cowards and immoral etc… And of course the eternal response…

But if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear… right?:

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”~from Panopticism by Michel Foucault

From talking to people about the world and society, there are two deterrents preventing the formation of a really effective social movement in the US. Apathy and fear seem to be the two things stopping people from actually taking action, from trying to change things for the better. The apathy is easy to solve. By taking visible and effective action we can convince the apathetic people that it’s worth it to TRY. A successful action, uprising, strike or occupation expands the notion of what is possible and also shows theimmediate benefits of becoming involved with a movement. So all we’re left with then is overcoming fear, or gaining a better relationship to fear and what causes fear. To get there I must digress for a moment…

So all the way back in 1785 philosopher Jeremy Bentham developed an idea for a prison. The Panopticon (a sketch of it is above) was Bentham’s attempt to design a prison that functioned as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. The idea behind it being to have the prison administration setup in the middle of the jail. To setup the observation in such a way that the people running the prison could possibly observe anyone at any time. The key feature though, that the prison would be structured in such a way that the inmates would never be able to tell if they were being watched. Here’s another picture of a real life prison based off the panoptic model:

Bentham spawned the Panopticon as a prison design, but the principle behind it was meant to be and has been implemented in other spheres of life. Foucault put it great in his essay Panopticism: “it makes it possible to perfect the exercise of power. It does this in several ways: because it can reduce the number of those who exercise it, while increasing the number of those on whom it is exercised. Because it is possible to intervene at any moment and because the constant pressure acts even before the offences, mistakes or crimes have been committed.” To boil all this down to real life situations… You ever go into a large department store and look up? Some stores have those small cameras, but some have those large black bulbs that obscure where the small camera is actually pointing. A friend once told me “the larger those bulbs are the more bullshit those cameras are”. And it’s true. There came a point when I realized that even if there were cameras, they MOST LIKELY were not pointing at me. And if they were pointed at me, no one was probably watching. If the cameras were even real at all. Speeding by the “This speed limit area is monitored by radar/aircraft/statetrooper/fucking santa claus” signs on the side of the highway… Those days in school when the teacher wouldn’t collect the homework, or give us that pop quiz like she threatened. All this culminating in the liberating realization that there are too many people to watch at once

Considering recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and the US I’m starting to think its really those with “authority” against those without it… After 9/11 world governments had to flex their muscles, showing off their capabilities for surveillance and policing, and afterward it started to look like we were among the most passive of generations... But what of those under dictatorships, what of the people in Egypt who had been living under Mubarak’s rule for 30 years? Or the people of Algeria who with inspiration from their neighbors, have demonstrated in defiance of the 19 year old emergency? The people who risk everything by being in the street alone?

Staying Visible All the Time: Knowing When to Stay Anonymous

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends“~Shirley Maclaine

Just because someone wears a mask doesn’t mean they did nothin’ automatically”~lyric from “The Mask” by Danger Doom

There’s a fine line to walk between anonymity and invisibility. Staying Anonymous is a strategy to

1)avoid repression

2)disprove the myth of the all-seeing State

3) Inspire others by showing them it is possible to evade government repression. Anyone can shame and slander those who choose to stay anonymous. Many may even take what’s said at face value. Regardless, every action has an implied message, or gesture. Protesting (illegally when necessary) and hiding your identity resonates with people. If a member of Anonymous’ DDoS’es a site and doesn’t get caught, if a group of masked protesters riot and get away with it, that sends a clear message. These things say: “We know the situation. We know the risks and we came prepared.”  Staying anonymous signifies a switch in thought, from state “victim” to the opposition. And people recognize that. I know I did.

With all that said, anonymity is only one strategy, one strategy out of many. It’s great if all you’re trying to do is avoid arrest. But if you want the added benefit of inspiring others and dispelling fear,  you must be visible as well! Too many well-meaning people have gotten too caught up in their own anonymity, too paranoid to realize they’ve missed the point. An effective action minimizes risk to the participants, and presents a viable alternative to the status quo. It solves an immediate problem and is relate-able. It’s repeatable. Gone are the days of armed vanguard-ist rebellions; “revolutions” forced on many by a few. Take Egypt for example. The opposition in the country had been demonstrating for years against Mubarak’s rule. Only once there were thousands of people in the street, teaching each other how to stay safe in the street, how to make a mask out of a shirt, how to get on the internet despite censorship… Only once there were thousands demonstrating and sharing the means of resistance, did we even begin to see any movement towards the opposition’s goals…

In short, learn when to stay anonymous and when to reveal yourself. Never sacrifice your efficacy, your freedom or your worldview just for some publicity. In the same breath, don’t sacrifice the natural appeal of CHANGING THE WORLD by becoming too attached to your anonymity.

P.S. Expect another post on practical ways to stay anonymous when protesting in real life and on the internet… Also none of the photos are mine, bottom two are taken from



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