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Anonymous/Project Chanology

Contributed by: Ray Vichot


Project Chanology and Anonymous: Using Griefing and Meme Creation Strategies as Protest Action 

 

Project Chanology  is focused on protesting Scientology and spreading information about its practices, which Chanology sees as both financially exploitative and cult-like. This group has several unique properties that bear noting when talking about and trajectories between participatory culture and civic engagement. One is the fact that the group Chanology emerges from is not a traditional 'fan' or 'participatory culture', but a multi-sited, internet-based group. Second is the highly decentralized nature of its organization, which is borne out of the subculture the group emerges from. Third is the focus on anonymity which is both common practice in the original participatory culture and also seen as a useful method of protecting themselves against Scientology. Finally, the practices (or even the idea) of Project Chanology is not accepted or welcomed by other members of Anonymous, and thus it is a contested pursuit.

 

About Anonymous

 

              Anonymous is not a group or community in a traditional sense. Even for an online community of practice, there is not much that ties it to say, fan-based communities. Its focus is not on any media, any book, film, or television show. It’s not based on an artistic practice or political ideology. If there are any cultural assumptions, it may be those co-opted from hacker culture, but even then there is not much that would be agreed upon 100 percent. Perhaps the mindset is closest to that of a griefer in an online multiplayer game, except the group itself doesn’t inhabit a game space as its primary mode of communication. Even the name “Anonymous” is a happy accident of the technological affordances of the message board software used.

What has become Anonymous can be traced back to Japanese message board 2-Channel (“ni-channel”, 2ch for short). It was established in 1999 by Hiroyuki Nishimura. The major difference between 2ch and other message board and forum post software was two-fold. First, forum posts fall into one of hundreds of boards dedicated to wide-ranging topics. Secondly, all posts not made by the forum owner of moderators are done anonymously. The result of the anonymization on 2Ch was that people on the boards felt free to comment on just about any topic frankly. A spin-off to 2-Channel, Futaba Channel[i] was created August 30, 2001. In 2003, then-15 year old Christopher Poole, going by the pseudonym of moot,[ii] and using his mother’s credit card, founded 4-chan which, in many ways, is an English-language version of Futaba Channel.

Of the various boards on 4chan, the one that has drawn the most notice is the Random board, otherwise known as /b/. The board is filled with random discussion topics and known for its rather frank (if not simply vulgar) discussion. After 4-chan’s creation, many spin-off imageboards emerged. At one point, a “Declaration of Independence from /b/” was posted. This solidified a growing sentiment that, due to various factors, /b/ would not be the only, or even primary home to Anonymous members, or Anons. Anonymous became a multi-sited internet community, existing in varous *chan style imageboards, other websites, and IRC channels.

 

Circumstances that led to the formation of Project Chanology

 

In December of 2007, a video meant for internal distribution among Scientology churches was leaked onto YouTube. The video consists of an interview with celebrity Scientologist, Tom Cruise. In the interview, Cruise makes wild claims such as, "[Scientologists] are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. We are the authorities on improving conditionsWe can rehabilitate criminals. We can bring peace and unite cultures.” After the video was leaked, the Church of Scientology asked for the video to be pulled from YouTube and claimed the video was taken out of context from a supposed 3 hour version. The removal of the original video from YouTube prompted various individuals to simply re-upload the video onto YouTube several times, giving it various titles in order to make permanent removal nigh impossible. The video was spread around the *chans and many Anons were among those who helped to re-upload the video on YouTube and other online video sites. At the same time, other members of Anonymous were reading information on established anti-Scientology organizations online, such as Enturbulation.org and Operation Clambake. During this period, noted anti-Scientologists published videos and posts to Anonymous.

While some traditional protestors of Scientology were intrigued at the new influx of attention towards Scientology, others condemned their methods[iii] which included Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Scientology servers, prank phone calls were made using VoIP services such as Skype, and unending “black faxes”[iv], pizzas, and other services were directed at Scientology offices. Beyond the direct attacks on Scientology, There were several attempts at raising general consciousness over Church and its practices using aggregation sites such as Digg as well as google bombing[v] to make Scientology the first hit in a search for “dangerous cult” and anti-Scientology site Xenu.net the first link to a search for Scientology.

On January 21st, 2008, a group of people speaking for Anonymous and calling themselves “Chan Enterprises” released a press statement declaring that Anonymous was prepared to engage in a long-term war with Scientology. The statement explained the rationale behind Anonymous’s attacks. Concurrently with this press release, a video, entitled “A Message to Scientology”, was placed on YouTube. In it, a computer generated voice described the earlier events as but a first step in a war between Anonymous and Scientology in the name of free speech and liberation of members who were being financially exploited by the church. By January 28, Anons were ceasing online-based harassment tactics. A new video, “A Call to Action”, was released, espousing the need for non-violent legal protests. Certain people involved with the Scientology raids began organizing a global protest that would take place in the middle of February. Partyvan.info used it’s bandwidth to act as an information clearinghouse, informing Anons about the protests as well as linking to sub-forums with which local planning and discussion could occur.

On February 12, the first set of “global raids” took place, with protests occurring internationally, with most of the protests occurring in North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. After the first wave of protests, the member of Anonymous who wanted to continue with the protests came together to create a new group, envisioned as one of many projects by Anonymous, calling itself Project Chanology. The protests have been repeated monthly ever since with smaller protests and events planned on a local or regional level.

              Currently, Project Chanology employs several strategies in their protests, most notably that of constant video recording and media uploads of their protests in order to control the media narrative and protect themselves from any charges of harassment of persecution levied by Scientology. Additionally, Chanologists have utilized tools of detournement, culture jamming, as well as meme creation, a practice learned from Anonymous, to utilize Scientology imagery and narratives to both mock the church and its members as well as to point out the injustices that the church has perpetrated on people.

                 Even from the beginning, though perhaps more pronounced as Project Chanology continued, the attitudes towards the project among non-Chanology participants in Anonymous changed. The general attitude ranged from simple claims that protesting Scientology (as opposed to raiding or trolling) was boring to protesting being a fruitless effort or, even worse, antithetical to what Anonymous is. The tensions have centered on a few factors: whether Project Chanology’s goals are tenable, whether their goals and methods are in keeping with those of Anonymous itself, and whether, in becoming more visible in the name of a social justice cause, they become something that members of Anonymous would usually mock or troll rather than celebrate. It should be noted that these views themselves have been critiqued as having a distorted view of who the members of Anonymous are.  Specfifcally, those who feel that Chanology is antithetical to Anonymous’s nature are attempting to maintain a mystique and secretive power that doesn’t actually exist. Instead of the narrative of Anonymous as a mysterious man turned nerdy protestor, Anonymous is better portrayed as a nerdy internet denizen who became a nerdy person who is protesting.


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[i]              Futaba Channel’s name is a play on the reading of the number two and the word for bud or sprout. In certain contexts, (ni) can be read as futa. Futaba means sprout or bud.’

[ii]              While moot has used the name Christopher Poole in interviews with the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other mainstream news organizations, it is speculated that this, too, is a pseudonym based on an inside joke based in either /b/ or one of the various Anonymous affiliated IRC channels.

[iii]              As an example, alt.religion.scientology posts about Anonymous ranged from rationalization : “ I think that more people will be harmed and even possibley killed in the time it takes to bring down CoS legally than it may take using more extreme methods like Anonymous is trying to do,”  to nihilistic condemnation: “So why promote illegal actions? It won't work------------ever---------long term, and they then become what they say they're fighting.“

[iv]              Taping two sheets of black paper to form a continuous loop through a fax machine in order to waste fax toner.

[v]              A Google bomb is a directed attempt to have a site listed at or near the top of a Google search, especially for specific terms. Usually this involves some amount of scripting or manipulating the algorithms Google uses in assigning page rank to its searches.



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