Matthew K. Nelson

Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Fall 12-12-2014

Major Department or Program

Rhetoric Studies


Heather 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.

Page Count


Subject Headings

Digital Age, Ethos, Digital communications -- Harassment, Internet -- Ethical problem, Hacktivism, Internet and activism, Social change -- 21st Century, Modern ethics -- 21st Century, Anonymous (Group), Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2015 -- Rhetoric Studies

Permanent URL

Document Type

Whitman Community Accessible Thesis

Terms of Use

If you have questions about permitted uses of this content, please contact the ARMINDA administrator



Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).