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Explainer: 'Anonymous' unleashes Twitter storm with George Floyd claims, but who're they?


"Activist/hacktivist collective" Anonymous has taken Twitter by a storm after the recent Minneapolis police brutality that led to the murder of George Floyd shook the world's conscience.

The group that has caused quite a stir, took to Twitter and other social media platforms a week ago to condemn the murder of 47-year-old Floyd, who died after an officer knelt on his neck even as he gasped for breath, sparking widespread protests across the US, curfews in major cities and also led to the US President Donald Trump taking refuge in a White House bunker as tensions escalated.

But, first things first.

What/who exactly is 'Anonymous'?

'Anonymous' claims to be a "decentralised international hactivist movement" that originated in 2003 and has conducted many digital exposes since then, much to the discomfiture of governments and influential people.

It has now re-emerged with a series of tweet threads and videos from its unverified Twitter handles, which were quick to go viral -- especially those on the George Floyd case wherein a figure wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, (portrayed in the popular dystopian novel and Hollywood film 'V for Vendetta') spoke about how racial inequality masked as police brutality has affected the United States for a long time.

“Police brutality and murder is a widespread problem in the United States, which has undoubtedly infected nearly every jurisdiction in the country.

"But, the Minneapolis police department is among the worst and has a horrible track record of violence and corruption. This week’s brutal killing of George Floyd, which has sparked protests and national outrage, is just the tip of the iceberg in a long list of high-profile cases of wrongful deaths at the hands of officers in your state,” they appeared saying.

The impact of the clip was far-reaching and it went on to garner over 37 million views despite being pulled down by social media sites multiple times. Word was quick to spread and netizens, who were already enraged and had been incessantly protesting under the banner of 'Black Lives Matter', demanding accountability were instantly intrigued.

But George Floyd's isn't the first cop brutality case to catch their eye.

In 2014, Anonymous hacked the City Hall website of Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown, threatening more action if the protestors were hurt. They also released the name of the officer they deemed responsible, a claim the police denied.

Later that year, Anonymous also released information on 12-year-old African-American teenager Tamir Rice's shooter.

This time too they did something similar by allegedly disabling the Minneapolis police department website for a while and leaking the email addresses and passwords of the officers.

But, let's backtrack a bit. Is this Anonymous' modus operandi? For that, a quick look at some of its past activities.

Claim to fame

Some of the most notable actions that grabbed eyeballs include:

  • Operation Chanology (2008) - In 2008, Anonymous attacked the Church of Scientology after a video of celebrity Tom Cruise surfaced online praising his faith that the Church wanted taken down. Viewing this as internet censorship, they adapted measures like distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) prank calls, and other means to disrupt the church's services such as investigating its tax exemption status in the US with the help of the Internal Revenue Service. Anonymous has also openly advocated against homophobia and lashed out at Churches that advocated it.

  • Operation Payback (2010) - Anonymous, which had openly pledged its support to WikiLeaks (an NPO that released classified data), was believed to be responsible for the attack on MasterCard and PayPal after they froze WikiLeaks' accounts, shut down its servers and refused to engage in business with them as the US government raised objections. It had taken down both sites of MasterCard and Visa, declaring "war" on behalf of Jullian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) that year.

  • Revolutionary movements across globe (2011-12) - The collective heavily supported protest movements in Tunisia (OpTunisia) when Arab Spring engulfed the nation with similar DDoS style attacks on government websites and by mobilising crowds after circulating relevant information.

  • Arrests of 'members' - Apart from this, many people, who claimed to plead allegiance to Anonymous have been arrested for alleged involvement in cyberattacks on behalf of them in countries like India, UK, Turkey, US, The Netherlands and Spain but no concrete links could ever be traced back to them.

  • OpParis (2015) - Anonymous attacked the Islamic State under its #OpParis campaign after the Paris Charlie Hebdo terror massacre. On January 12, they brought down a website that was suspected to belong to one of these groups and claimed to shut down over 1,000 Twitter accounts linked to the terrorist outfit in 2015. 

Alright, but how do they recruit people and what is their ideology?

One doesn't really know. The collective has not endorsed any political ideology or stance although most of its activities point toward a revolutionary orientation. Mobilisation of people who can speak truth to power seems to be the agenda - one that they seek to achieve via cyberwars and attacks.

Resurgence with George Floyd

Cut to June 2020, the collective seems to be focussed on providing updates and information to the protestors as they are still continuing their battle in various cities like New York and other places across the globe even as Floyd will be buried on June 9 in Houston, Texas.

On Twitter, Anonymous' comeback was enough to gain the collective's multiple accounts over 5 million followers each, all in under two days, as more revelations were promised and accountability from authorities demanded.

There may be a slight calm now but with the storm that they have already unleashed, it's certain that they aren't going away any time soon.