Anonymous is a global network of online "hactivists," hackers and Internet users who “often have little in common other than a willingness to insert themselves into red-hot social and political situations,” according to the International Business Times. Most recently, the group has become involved in the chaos of Ferguson, Missouri, leading some to wonder whether Anonymous’ vigilantism has gone too far.
In Ferguson, Anonymous attempted to pressure the police department into releasing the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown, according to Mother Jones writer Josh Harkinson. Anonymous stated that it would release the name of the officer itself, and also threatened to release personal information about the chief of police’s daughter if the police did not release the name, according to Harkinson.
Anonymous did release the name of the officer, Harkinson continued, but the name was incorrect. As a result, Twitter suspended the Anonymous account.
“Half outlaw, half idealist, Anonymous has always operated at the margins of legitimacy, its tactics ranging from gumshoe detective work to illegal hacking and shameless PR stunts,” wrote Harkinson.
The Washington Post interviewed McGill University professor Gabriella Coleman about Anonymous, specifically what it means for the group when Anonymous is wrong.
“Already it’s a controversial act even when it’s right,” she told the Post. “So when it’s wrong, it’s doubly controversial. And again, it's controversial even within Anonymous. There were some people in there saying, ‘Can we hold off on this until there’s more research?’ ”
It’s not the first time Anonymous has falsely accused someone, Coleman said. Andrea Peterson, also from the Post, wrote that when the group accuses the wrong person, it can put that person in danger.
Despite these factors, Anonymous has fans and defenders.
“On the whole, the group is actually pretty accurate,” Coleman said of the group, and Anonymous has helped in distributing information in Ferguson.
“Audio recordings released by the group Wednesday that appear to show confusion among dispatchers on the day of the shooting were confirmed as authentic by the county police,” wrote Peterson.
Local rapper Tef Poe told the Post that “Anonymous has been an important source of information for those on the ground — amplifying relevant news on Twitter and serving as a source of new information as the local population struggles with the lack of new facts about the Brown shooting from local law enforcement.
"The only facts that the people of St. Louis and Ferguson get — the only new leads — are from Anonymous, because the police department won't tell us anything," Poe said.
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2