Every Thursday, about 8:15am, Matthew talks with Zac on 95bFM’s “Breakfast Show” about conspiracy theories.
This week’s chosen conspiracy theory is very simple indeed: someone on the internet thinks that the hackitivist group “Anonymous” is actually a front for the CIA, NSA, et cetera who are perpetrating acts of internet sabotage in order to create a pretext for the Establishment to step in and shut the internet down.
They’ve even made a video and uploaded it to Youtube, so it must be true!1
For avid listeners of the segment, no, that’s not the Pork Board.
The video, by AnonymousisCIA, alleges that the group Anonymous is a false flag operation by the American Government (at the very least; some of the references to other groups suggests it’s a really New World Order plot) to curtail our internet freedoms. The author of the video claims to once have been a support of Anonymous but they have worked out Anonymous’s real intentions which are:
Replicate a false cyberwar which is inevitably giving those in charge the exact powers to inforce new legislation which is simply killing the internet.
AnonymousisCIA gives a list of events which they say shows that whenever Anonymous makes an “attack” the US government then responds/retaliates with new legislation.
My first thought on hearing this is that the author seems to be arguing in the wrong direction. They start out with “This is the state of the world today!” and are arguing back from that to “Who would have wanted this state of affairs to happen?” As such, AnonymousisCIA is claiming “This came about due to the plan” and is downplaying the other possibility, which is that no one planned for this to happen and the current state of affairs is due to governments and organisations like Anonymous and Wikileaks2 reacting to one another: governments via leglisation; organisations like Anonymous through protest action. AnonymousisCIA claims “[T]he more Anonymous hacks, the less we gain.” That maybe be true, but that doesn’t tell us Anonymous is part of a plot to curb internet freedoms. It might just be that governments overreact to Anonymous-style hacks and curb freedoms in order to protect themselves from “evil hacktivists”.
AnonymousisCIA advances a few arguments in support of their conspiracy theory. The first strand is that it’s a lie that supporting Anonymous will help you achieve freedom. AnonymousisCIA claims the converse is true; by supporting Anonymous this gives the government grounds attack us all with the full force of the law. It’s a bit of a strange argument because it assumes supporting Anonymous is the same as being anonymous on the Internet (lack of capitalisation intended). You can be generally supportive of Anonymous the group without acting in an Anonymous fashion or deciding to become anonymous. As such, AnonymousisCIA appears to be trading on an ambiguity as to what support of Anonymous entails and this is problematic because it strictly associates attacks on the group Anonymous with people choosing to be anonymous on the Internet. It might be the case the two are linked, but it’s not entailed.
The second strand to the argument is actually a fairly interesting question: why should we trust a completely anonymous group when we don’t seem to trust our own non-anonymous governments? The answer to this is complex: our trust in public institutions is fairly conditional on who these institutions are and how open they appear to be. Certainly, part of the reason as to how we judge how trustworthy these organisations are is going to be due to who happens to belong to them.3 However, the reasons for our trust in the institutions which govern us surely differ from whatever trust we might have in a group like Anonymous? Indeed, it’s not entirely clear that supporting a group necessarily entails we have a trusting relationship with said group; it might just be we dislike some other group so much that we tolerate our chosen group no matter its foibles.
For example, a lot of people on the Left tolerate misogynists in leadership positions in their ranks (and fail to criticise them) because (charitably-speaking-for an odd sense of “charitable”) such supporters dislike their opponents so much that they express support for untrustworthy people because at least these untrustworthy people wave red flags rather than blue ones (reverse the colours if you are in America). Now, in some sense it is true that a few people on the Left “trust” these individuals but in many cases they merely support them.4
My point is that whilst it’s quite interesting to say “Why trust Anonymous, who are anonymous, when we don’t even trust our own governments?” it turns out the answer to that question does not tell us much about whether our trust or support in Anonymous is misplaced.
The third argumentative strand is the claim that Anonymous should have been infiltrated by now by the government (so even if Anonymous was initially a legitimate protest group, it probably isn’t anymore). It’s an interesting claim (once again) but if the author of the video really was a full supporter of Anonymous in the past they obviously didn’t understand Anonymous’s flat structure. Anonymous is a hydra where most of the heads are blind: it’s hard to know how you could subvert such an organisation. Yes, you could act in Anonymous’s name and engage in false flag operations, but Anonymous, as a collective, seems very good at distancing itself from activities that do not suit their brand.
The fourth argument is that the logo of Anonymous depicts faceless/headless suits in front of the symbol for the United Nations. What more could you want as proof these people are the New World Order? Of course, things go slightly awry because AnyonmousisCIA claims the UN logo is a government logo, which somewhat assumes the existence of a One World Government. Cart before the horse (or some similar aphoristic dismissal of an argument).5
The fifth argument presents a response to the quite reasonable question of “Why a conspiracy?” AnonymousisCIA admits the government could just pull the plug on the internet, but that this would cause too many problems. So, they have engineered a problem which can only be resolved by curbing internet freedoms. But this is an answer to a question of “Why conspiracy?” where the answer is “Conspiracy!” which then relies on “Past conspiracies!” as support. AnonymousisCIA asserts that false flags are common but it’s really not that clear they are. An argument needs to be provided to support this claim, and whilst some conspiracy theorists will say it’s just common sense, this conspiracy theorist would like some more evidence, please.
The final argument (such as it is) is the claim that we can tell Anonymous is a false flag because Fox News says terrible things about them. There’s a curious logic to this: Fox News, it is claims, wants to create and sustain a climate of fear. Anonymous gives Fox News the ammunition to do exactly this, so it must be the case that Anonymous acts the way it does precisely so Fox News can write fear-inducing headlines. It’s a really nice idea, but, once again, it assumes the existence of the conspiracy AnonymousisCIA is trying to persuade us exists.
In the end, AnonymousisCIA doesn’t really give an argument as to why the conspiracy theory is a better explanation than some coincidence theory, other than that they once supported Anonymous and now they don’t. More problematically, AnonymousisCIA is presenting their argument pseudonymously, which doesn’t fill one with much hope.6 So, you could be forgiven for thinking AnonymousisCIA is itself a front for the CIA, NSA and the Establishment, given that alleging Anonymous is a false flag operation might be a false flag operation itself, one designed to sow confusion and doubt about the activities of Anonymous. Certainly, that was my first thought. What better way to slag off Anonymous than to do it pseudo-anonymously?
I’m also suspicious as to whether we should take the video seriously because I have a sneaking suspicion its a parody.7 Take the line “Before you judge my theory, I’ve studied cybersecurity and law for twenty-seven years!” It’s the kind of grand statement (which is offered but not backed up) that I’d include if I was trying to create a video with a sense of authenticity. There’s also the complete dismissal of any opposing view: either you are a dupe or you are lying. Although… what I’m taking as markers of parody here are also the kind of angry-yet-sincere things certain conspiracy theorists are sometimes want to say in defence of their theories, so… Well, the jury is out.
- Hat-tip to Carrie Stoddart for letting my know about this.↩
- For those of you who are fans of Wikileaks… Well, apparently Wikileaks is just another tentacle of the plot and aren’t to be trusted either. Oh, and Occupy is another false flag operation. Frankly, I’m surprised anything is authentic these days.↩
- For example, I distrust Steven Joyce and John Key and, as such, I distrust the driving forces of Executive of the National Party and thus the tenor of the current Government.↩
- A similar argument can be made for our supposed “trust” in governments as well; I know of several people who distrust the current National Government but distrust a potential Labour-Greens Coalition even more.↩
- There’s also a weird little tangent about how Anonymous is not an idea but a group of people and how ideas don’t hack computers; people do. I’m really not sure what to make of this, other than “Yes, this is true” and “So?”↩
- Although one is aware that the comments on the YouTube video show a lot of support for AnonymousisCIA’s argument, so one-who feels stupid for keeping this third person stuff up-might be alone in thinking pseudonymous commentary on an anonymous organisation is a plot point from “The Man Who Was Thursday”.↩
- There’s also the robo-voice, which, at least to my mind, screams parody.↩