For the past week, I’ve been lurking in Anonymous’ #opIndia chatroom. It wasn’t too hard to get in; there’s no password and the address was floating around in an apparent effort to recruit supporters. I'm a mute spectator, but I still find it impossible to tear myself away. The goings-on in here are absolutely fascinating. There are between 20 and 65 people logged in at any given time. Not everyone seems to be Indian, judging by their awareness of the past month’s incidents and the parties involved. Proceedings are at times chaotic to the point of becoming useless, and at times focused with alarming precision.
This is clearly a very small subset of the global Anonymous movement. There might be one or two old hands directing people and events, but most of the participants seem to have discovered Anonymous only recently. There’s no bar to entry; anyone can join at any time and stay for as long as they please—no one really seems to be keeping track of membership and no one discourages those in it only for the power rush. They chat, plot, debate and make bold proclamations; there’s no need for consensus on anything, and any attack that the group is actually successful at pans out only because members supported it voluntarily.
Will you be joining?
My time in the chatroom has been extraordinarily enlightening. I’ve seen wild reactions and overreactions to every bit of news that emerges. Members managed to obtain PDF copies of the Madras High Court order (which didn’t specifically order any kind of blocking), identified the individuals and companies behind the website blocks and put the story together better than any journalist. They then debated who to target and why, but the most enthusiastic ones began their attacks immediately. Some members created distractions over unrelated issues, some wanted to attack high-profile targets just for the attention, and some tried to plead for rationality. There’s no doubt that their current objective is important and they will create a large enough spectacle for people to take notice of, but many seem to be in it only for the cruel pleasure that they get out of their ruthlessness and perceived invulnerability.
There was debate about attacking IRCTC (proposed for the sheer publicity value; shot down for inconveniencing citizens), the IPL (the spot-fixing scandal was unrelated but members were in the mood for a crusade), and bookmyshow.com (vaguely related to “entertainment”; briefly successful before logic prevailed). More thoughtful members targeted assorted Reliance properties as revenge for blocking their own customers, and the All India Trinamool Congress to send a message about the jailing of a cartoonist.
I saw for myself as proof of their successful exploits scrolled down the screen—www.parliamentofindia.nic.in, dot.gov.in, mit.gov.in, aicc.org.in, bjp.org, supremecourtofindia.nic.in… Despite the targets' denials and coverups, there is proof that the attacks were successful.
But I’m still left wondering whether these attacks served any purpose, and which version of history people will believe a little while from now. While largely motivated by a sense of vigilante justice, the transient members of #opIndia really do not come across as valiant heroes or crusaders. The scope of their ambition is breathtaking, but I cannot describe them as a “hive mind”. At the end of the day, I’m left with the sense that they’re just as short-tempered and intolerant—in other words, human—as those they are fighting against.