Down With This Sort Of Thing

Note the sign at bottom right.

Quote: “How do you, ideologically speaking, defeat a crowd that is enthusiastically demanding that you ‘DO A BARREL ROLL! DO A BARREL ROLL!!’ ?”

It was a busy weekend, so in case any of you missed it, here is a pretty complete blog entry about the Anonymous protest outside of the UK Scientology HQ in Blackfriars. Up until this point I assumed that Anonymous were just griefers (and there were related black fax and denial of service attacks going on), but this event seemed like a winner. Worth considering as a follow-up to this post.

UPDATE: It looks like they’re back at it, with a series of protests this past weekend, May 9-11. Fallout from the events described in my original post is still being felt, and it looks like some mutation is occuring in the nature of the protests. Are the black fax and DoS attacks ramping down in favor of more traditional dissent? Where has the cheeky nature of the London event gone? Maye the Yanks are just being more stoic…

UPDATE 2: Fall is upon us, and things don’t seem to be simmering down. While RL protests are set to continue, the church of scientology seems to have smartened up enough to join Anonymous on the most logical battleground; slashdot reports that the church has been trying to get anti-scientology videos removed from YouTube, with a limited degree of success. Could the church be possibly be clever enough to take on Anonymous memetically? Not likely, but those of us who read too much cyberpunk must be looking forward to an escalation of hostilities in one of the web’s fist widely publicised guerilla wars. The opening shots? How about a video of someone rick rolling the February protest. How un-ironically ironic! Or is that ironically unironic? hmmm…

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9 Responses

  1. This is … interesting? I guess?

    I think the key here is that the Anonymous folks weren’t interested in engaging the Scientologists or anyone else. They were just there to be weird, really. I think that’s perfectly alright, because they didn’t cause any real incovenience and there was no apparent violence or vandalism. But there was no question of trying to “defeat” them, because there wasn’t any conflict. You don’t defeat or even engage a bunch of weirdos; you just wait for them to go away.

    I don’t think I would choose to spend a Sunday afternoon shouting dated Internet memes as slogans, but as long as the people doing it aren’t causing serious harm, I don’t have a real problem with it.

    I guess if the cops had decided to disperse them, they would have started fleeing in all directions, screaming “GET TO THE CHOPPA!”

  2. That was pretty funny!

  3. I’ve posted about this on another blog.

    The problem with all this is that it’s got a lot of mob rule . . . Attacking Scientology is one thing, but who designates the targets? Who’s going to protect my eccentric special interest group when Anonymous turns on them?

    Or is it just “tough luck kid, you should toe the line?”

    As viral ad campaign, interesting. As political development, disturbing. You can motivate huge crowds very quickly with this technology. And we all know how reliable the wisdom of crowds is in the wake of a major shock like 7/7 or 9/11. . .

  4. I don’t know that your eccentric special interest group actually needs protection from a bunch of bored people in Guy Fawkes masks howling like Spartans from 300.

    This is actually more interesting for the second reason you pointed out, Tripp – that large numbers of people can be motivated and directed with great ease thanks to the web. As the fellow on the other blog pointed out, hundreds of people all over the world went out and acted like whackjobs outside Scientology Churches because a man on the Internet told them to.

    As vaguely humourous as this whole thing is, I think Tripp is right when he says that there’s also something decidedly disturbing about it.

  5. Well, yes and no. They were told to be disruptive and shout funny slogans. No one went any further than buying guy fawkes masks or planning DoS attacks which they were unlikely to get caught for.

    If someone had been asking them to, say, firebomb scientology HQs all over the world instead of making silly signs, I doubt very much if the turnout would have been so big. I don’t actually believe that motivating huge quantities of people quickly over the internet is easy at all. I mean, try getting people to vote.

    This was popular because it sounded like fun. For something to be dangerous you need true believers, and all these guys believe in is griefing people they don’t like and/or having fun. The scary part is the griefing/DoS/black-fax stuff, which was already happening long before these protests occurred.

    By virtue of needing to physically show up, and thus be physically responsible for their actions, I’m not certain this kind of flash mob action could be turned dangerous.

    …unless you manipulated them really, really well.

    also, I’m intrigued – who is this supposed to be viral advertising for? I haven’t got a conspiracy theory that covers that one yet…

  6. No, the advertising comment related to Mark Iddon’s blog post. Should have copy/pasted more carefully.

    The ‘fun’ part is the key – if you can convince people that, say, shouting abuse at Poles is fun, or throwing wet toilet paper at a black family’s house is fun, then that’s ethnic cleansing by intimidation.

    Yes, you’d have to manipulate people well to do this. But I’m just saying that there’s something disturbing about a situation where you can organise large numbers of people to act politically without anyone really taking responsibility . .

  7. I’m going to skip the “but it is fun shouting abuse at Poles” joke and essentially agree.

    “ethnic cleansing” is a bit strong, but you’re basically correct. The crucial point has also been hit upon; the lack of accountability on the part of the organizers is extremely disturbing. I would like to believe that it would be tough to organize people ovber the ‘net to perpetrate hate crimes in a first world nation, but it’s obviously far from impossible.

    Once again, I must reccomend “GitS 2nd Gig” on this topic.

  8. Post updated.

  9. Post updated again!

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