Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/11/2012 (1695 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Feb. 10, 2008, I happened to be in Los Angeles and witnessed first-hand the Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology. I saw hundreds of mostly young people marching opposite the Scientology Center on Hollywood Boulevard with their Guy Fawkes masks and their cheeky signs ("Xenu is My Homeboy").
On the face of it, the protest was a response to the church using their legal muscle to remove some embarrassing Tom Cruise recruitment videos from the Internet.
But underneath it all was something much more inspiring: a belief in the democratic possibilities of the Internet.
We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, director Brian Knappenberger's examination of the highs and lows of the hacker movement. captures the joy of that event. As one participant describes it, people who had been communicating online for years actually met each other in the flesh. Given the unexpected representation of women among the protestors, many virgins, he speculates, got de-virginized that day.
Indeed, that specific public protest was a galvanizing moment when many people accustomed to solitary online posting realized there was something bigger than themselves... and that there could be strength in numbers.
They also realized that there was strength in anonymity, which is why the amorphous, decentralized entity known as Anonymous was an ideal activist entity. You could employ your tech savvy for a cause. No leader required. And in the spirit of counter-culture forerunners such as The Merry Pranksters and Yippies, activism could be a good time too.
Former Frontline producer Knappenberger acknowledges the dark side of hacking, of course, whether motivated by criminal greed or an overarching malice. One Anonymous acolyte (naturally) quotes The Dark Knight: "Some people just want to watch the world burn."
One might understandably be concerned that Anonymous's illegal endeavours could do more harm than good, especially among some of the younger perpetrators, who have either served jail time or are facing jail time for their well-intended acts of dissent. Just because you're not in the vicinity of rubber bullets or tear gas doesn't mean you can't get hurt.
But ultimately, the film posits an argument that the Internet is not merely a tool for self-gratification. If it achieves nothing else, We Are Legion forcefully demonstrates how some kid net-surfing in his basement could be a force for good.
Select excerpts of reviews of We Are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists:
"I went from ignorant to informed to impressed when presented with this tight and enjoyable compendium of all the major hacking incidents of the past several years."
-- Scott Weinberg, Twitch
"The film is most illuminating in showing how democratic practice can still find a new voice and innovative means with each generation."
-- Nicolas Rapold, New York Times
"A cumulative feeling of urgency and you-are-there world-beating are key to the pic's seductive appeal, though lack of informed dissenting opinions reps an unfortunate editorial choice."
-- Eddie Cockrell, Variety
We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
Directed by Brian Knappenberger
3 1/2 stars out of five