Dr. Biella Coleman: From Busting Cults to Breeding Cults: Anonymous Hacktivism vs. QAnon
Virtual/ Online Event with Professional Live Captions in English
First emerging from the anonymous imageboard 4chan, Anonymous found its activist sea legs in 2008 during a worldwide protest campaign against the Church of Scientology. Not long after, Anonymous surged in visibility and popularity as hackers used the name to lay claim to high-profile hacktivist actions. Other groups and individuals used it to coordinate dozens of political operations, often supporting social justice movements. A decade later, after Anonymous activity waned, different movements and currents, like the anonymous far-right and the conspiracy theorists QAnon had sprung forth from similar anonymous imageboards. Like Anonymous, these movements and currents played integral, even outsized roles in various political arenas.
In contrast to Anonymous, they often worked against the cause of social justice and, in its stead, supported reactionary, racist, conspiratorial or fascist political planks. How are we to understand this radical metamorphosis and the relationships between these currents and movements? In this talk, I will examine the role of critical events, translators, and larger political forces in accounting for their differences and address issues around anonymity, the difficulties in researching anonymous quarters of the internet, and popular journalistic accounts in meshing together aspects of these movements that should be pried apart. In so doing, I will make a case for careful historical analysis in media studies work and to call for the end of a class of categories, like Internet activism, that fails to capture the dynamics and importance of online tools for political movements today.
Dr. Gabriella (Biella) Coleman is a full professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and is a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Her scholarship covers the politics, cultures, and ethics of hacking. She is the author of two books on computer hackers and the founder and editor of Hack_Curio, a video portal into the cultures of hacking (you can learn more about the project here). In 2021, she hosted the BBC4 radio and podcast series, The Hackers. She formerly held the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University and was an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
She is currently completing a multi-year research project with Matt Goerzen on the security field and hacker professionalization during the 1990s and early 2000s. Wearing Many Hats, the first of two long reports based on this research has been released by the project’s funder and sponsor, Data and Society. The second report will be released later in 2022. She is also working on a book of essays about hackers and the state and will deliver material from the book for the 2022 Henry Morgan Lectures.
Her first book Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking was published in 2013 with Princeton University Press. She then published Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (Verso, 2014), which was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014 and was awarded the Diana Forsythe Prize by the American Anthropological Association.
This event is part of the 4th Season of the Feminist and Accessible Publishing and Communications Technologies Speaker and Workshop Series, organized by Dr. Alex Ketchum.
Our series was made possible thanks to our sponsors: SSHRC, the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), the DIGS Lab, Milieux, Initiative for Indigenous Futures, MILA, Dean of Arts Grant, ReQEF, and more (see our website!)
There is no fee required to attend this event. We will provide professional captions in english. This event will NOT be recorded and NOT bemade available on our website after the event. However, you can watch other past events here.