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We are Anonymous : anonymity, ethics, and the power of subversion
Matthew K. Nelson
December 12, 2014
Department or Program
Heather Ashley Hayes
This paper explores how a faceless group builds ethos in the digital age. I argue that a rhetoric of anonymity held by the eponymous hacktivist group Anonymous creates an ethical dilemma. This ethical dilemma is visible in the group’s back-and-forth internal divide regarding ideologies and objectives. One side pursues malicious harassment, whereas the other pursues social activism. While the group operates under one identity, Anonymous’s ethical division clouds the display of one unified moral objective. This ethical dilemma reveals the importance of ethos, as any confusion present within the movement is characterized by its ethos. Seeing as Anonymous develops its ethos online, ethos is created within a cyberpublic. Similar to how cyberpublics confront state ideologies and practices, an understanding of Anonymous’ modern ethos challenges the very notion of congruency within the movement and current understandings of ethos in general. This ethos is one that embodies the qualities of the new space where it operates. I suggest that while the role of ethos functions differently in modern environments such as cyberpublics, the antiquated rhetorical concept of ethos is decidedly relevant in these cyberpublics of the digital age. While a study of modern rhetorical concepts such as a cyberpublic helps to contextualize the movement, an investigation of ethos explains the moral confusion so fundamental to the group’s functionality. One cannot understand Anonymous’s rhetorical functions without examining this ethos.