We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

Film Review: Whether you think the cyberactivists of Anonymous are hooligans or heroes, “We Are Legion” is required viewing.
We Are Legion Poster

There’s a war on—over freedom of speech and information on the Internet. In this era of fractured media, decreased privacy and increasing corporate and government control, that war is affecting us all—even if we’re unaware of it. So whether you think the cyberactivists of Anonymous are hooligans or heroes, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists is required viewing.

It’s also thought-provoking and highly entertaining, charged with the cerebral-but-feisty energy of the hacker-activists themselves. They drive the film’s narrative forward with first-hand accounts of how, within just a few years, nerd culture spawned a serious political movement

From chatting on 4chan to subversive Internet pranking to taking on the Church of Scientology, Anonymous grew from a subculture to a force to be reckoned with. Along the way, the hacktivists branded themselves with theatrics like a threatening YouTube video and the now-famous Guy Fawkes mask (initially worn for the protection of, well, anonymity). Those visuals, coupled with random bad behavior by nihilist hacker factions within Anon, secured their reputation as what one media scholar in the film calls “the rude boys of the Internet.”

Then, according to We Are Legion, there was a defining schism. Those who made mischief for mischief’s sake pulled away from Anonymous (or were pushed), leaving it to those who saw their role as defenders of freedom of speech, access to information, and yes, even democracy.

According to the sharply edited presentation of writer/director/producer Brian Knappenberger, Anonymous has grown up and is using its power radically but responsibly. When PayPal decided to support the War on Terror by blocking its customers’ contributions to WikiLeaks in 2010, Anonymous jammed up the PayPal site and established itself as the cybermuscle behind the court of public opinion. Occupy would not have taken off as it did without the support and example of the Anonymous movement. Anon’s finest hour so far was during the Arab Spring, when it provided communications assistance to pro-democracy organizers after the Tunisian government cut off an entire country’s Internet access.

That’s why Anonymous matters. The collective is a counterforce to powers that would control the public’s right to know or right to speak. It can act quickly to send tyrants and censors a strong message. And according to We Are Legion, the cyberbattle has just begun.


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