Film review: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

If there is one idea that Anonymous members can agree on, it is a universal notion of sticking it to the man.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, a documentary by Brian Knappenberger, does not seek to legitimize the group Anonymous.  It does not create a platform through which they disseminate their beliefs of moral justice. What the documentary does instead is inform the audience about the methodology behind the online “hacktivist” group that has been popping up in news stories around the world for the last six years.

The documentary consists of interviews with members and ex-members of Anonymous, many of whom are scholars, lawyers, and politicians. They all give their own account of what they believe the group to be. However, no two answers are ever the same. Instead, many interviewees tend to find solid ground on the basis that Anonymous fights against the subordination of any individual, group, and minority.

The documentary successfully recounts Anonymous’ actions of a human rights activist group. Fighting for governments and corporations to be honest with the masses, it’s hard to believe that the hacktivist group got its start on the infamous imageboard 4chan, a website that prides itself on allowing people to anonymously post explicit and sexually subversive material. While this naturally creates a space for some truly memorable GIFs and memes that eventually filter to other social networking websites, 4chan is also infamous for the amount of trolling that takes place on its message boards.

“Trolling is a fucking art,” one Anonymous member states. The art of trolling is meant to take the people who take the Internet too seriously, and try to anger them as much as possible. The result is often hilarious. Though Anonymous members admit that this part of 4chan can be particularly nasty, some of their projects have had good intentions. Back in 2006, trolling methods were used to cause Hal Turners’ site to drive up its bandwidth costs into the thousands of dollars. Hal Turner is an American white nationalist and Holocaust denier who runs a blog in New Jersey.

The documentary’s inclusion of this particular story is puzzling. Anonymous furiously supports freedom of expression and speech and adamantly opposes censorship laws, especially online. Despite Hal Turner’s unsavory views and severely limited perspective, Anonymous’ staunch protection of free speech should allow Turner to have his views. Regardless, this act of trolling saw Anonymous use their collective power for a cause.

Various landmark stories are covered, which include Anonymous taking on the Church of Scientology, spearheading many Occupy protests, crashing major credit card companies for pulling their support from Wikileaks and more. The documentary also covers how Anonymous was pivotal in teaching people how to regain internet access after the Egyptian government had put the country offline during its revolution in 2011.

The group of people hidden behind Guy Fawkes masks remind everyone of the important and terrifying truth of Anonymous: that Anonymous does not operate as a single person, but as an entire online world of hackers. One member puts the essence of the group in words.

“…sometimes [it’s] going to be terrible, and sometimes it’s going to be wonderful,” he said.
“But one thing I can promise is that it’s going to be interesting.”