Who Are Anonymous?
: A Study Of Online Activism

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The activist network “Anonymous” has protested and launched cyber-attacks for and against a spectrum of socio-political causes around the world since 2008. The subsequent coverage and debate have described Anonymous but has generally done little to explore their political, cultural and historical contexts. Anonymous are an important development in how we use communications technologies for political means and ends. Their reactionary political positioning and pop-culture imagery from the role of moveable type printing in the Reformation to the Electric Telegraph as a technological and social precursor of the internet.

This thesis uses contemporary media coverage of Anonymous’ actions, prior research in the field of “Anonymous Studies” and Anonymous-authored primary source materials to answer these questions of Anonymous’ historical development, motivation and direction. This thesis expands on this central historical narrative through examining Anonymous’ use of pop-culture as political shorthand, how their methods and visual style have been adopted by others; as well as the political, legal and social responses to Anonymous by their targets and the “internet culture” from which they came.

Anonymous is a decentralised activist/protest community who define themselves through opposition. Anonymous position themselves as the antithesis of everything their current target is or represents, establishing solidarity and common cause among an otherwise disparate community. This almost always a takes place as a reaction to causes which have already reached a critical mass of mainstream attention. Despite the reduction of Anonymous’ novelty and impact over time, their methods have become templates for conducting aggressive and irregular political actions through the internet. This thesis combines research avenues which have not been directly connected to Anonymous or each other, expanding the small but growing field of “Anonymous Studies,” providing a strong historical and analytical basis for future research.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorThomas Rid (Supervisor), Neville Bolt (Supervisor) & David Betz (Supervisor)

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