This recent book is written by an anthropologist and examines the strange, virtual, tribe of people who call themselves ‘Anonymous’.
The second chapter, which is entitled “Project Chanology – I came for the lulz, but stayed for the outrage” covers one of the earliest real-world campaigns undertaken by this online collective – its attack upon the Church of Scientology. It does so in loving, accurate detail, and includes the contribution of ‘Wise Beard Man” (aka Mark Bunker) which helped to make the mass protests so effective.
The involvement of Anonymous has had a profound influence on the culture of those who campaign against the Church of Scientology. It demonstrated how a groups of like-minded individuals, using anonymity and the Internet to work together, are more than equal to a inflexible bureaucracy like Scientology. However, as the book reveals, its involvement in the campaign against Scientology changed Anonymous just as much – from a group of uber-trolls to iconoclastic social campaigners.
This is a fascinating read for both Anons and ‘Old Guard’ critics of Scientology (who must have wondered where these strange, masked people came from, and what they were up to).
Unlike some academics, the author really understands the virtual culture which gave us Anonymous, the culture of Scientology critics and the motives of the people who belong to them both. She also writes in an engaging and accessible style. If you want to understand one of the greatest influences upon the shared culture of those who oppose Scientology, this is the book to read.
The author makes it clear that the original motive for the Anonymous campaign against Scientology was not moral. They:
- Objected to the Church of Scientology suppressing the (now infamous) internal video of Tom Cruise waxing lyrical about the amazing abilities of Scientologists (watch it at the bottom of this page) after it was leaked online.
- Saw that they could have great fun by drawing attention to this ridiculous production and tweaking the tail of the Church of Scientology in the process.
On pp58-60 Coleman describes why a clash between hackers and the Church of Scientology mayhave been inevitable.
Hackers and Scientology stand in a diametrically opposed relationship to each other. This is not only because they are different, but because they are so precisely different, the perfect foils.
in support of this proposition Coleman quotes the “monotonously droning” policy, written by L Ron Hubbard, “Keeping Scientology Working”. She contrasts the secrecy, hierarchical control and repression built in to Scientology ‘tech’ with the world of hackers and tinkerers – people who value the free exchange of information and make real technology do useful (or at least entertaining) things.
It was probably also inevitable that Anons should also take the battle into the real world. It was during the mass protests outside Scientology Orgs that the iconic Guy Fawkes masks first appeared, to protect protesters from the persecution which Scientology visits upon perceived enemies as a matter of policy.
Today, Project Chanology is a shadow of its former self. However, there are still campaigners and protesters who work in its name and it has a profound influence on the tactics of critics of Scientology.
Coleman concludes that:
[Project Chanology] altered the game so fundamentally that critics could now stand confidently under the sun without fear of reprisal. The Church no longer had the upper hand. pg 76
Anonymous transformed the campaign against the abuses of the Church of Scientology. However, this campaign also transformed Anonymous from a means for hackers to entertain themselves to a group with real social value.
It’s impossible to do this book justice in a brief review. In short, it’s well worth a read.