SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The amorphous Internet activist movement known as Anonymous staged an online resurgence last week, following protests in the real world against police brutality.
A man wears an "anonymous" mask on the fourth and final day of the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware, USA, June 17, 2018. REUTERS / Mark Makela
Born on Internet chat panels more than a dozen years ago, the collective was known for organizing low-skilled but effective denial-of-service attacks that temporarily interrupted access to payment processors who stopped processing donations for the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.
But accounts that use variations of the Anonymous name recently claimed credit for temporarily taking a Minneapolis police website offline and, inaccurately, for hacking into police passwords.
At the same time, millions of Twitter accounts have started following long-standing anonymous posters and retweeting them, helping to push Anonymous into Twitter's trend column and paying more attention. Many of the driven tweets were opposed to police actions, defended the Black Lives Matter or criticized President Donald Trump.
It is not clear who or what is leading to the resurgence, and exactly why. Gabriella Coleman, professor of anthropology at McGill University, who wrote a book about Anonymous, said she was informed by experts that some key figures from a decade ago are involved and are being assisted by mechanical amplification.
"The ability to create so many new accounts is Anonymous's classic socio-technological hacking," said Coleman. "They are low fruits".
Even one of the heavily leveraged old accounts, YourAnonNews, tweeted that he had no idea what was going on. He experimented with tweeting nonsense and asking not to be retweeted, only to see these tweets repeated hundreds of thousands of times.
A Twitter spokeswoman said the company saw no evidence of "substantial coordinated activity" between longtime Anonymous accounts, but deleted a new and spammy one that caught the attention of a researcher on Tuesday.
"We saw some accounts change their profile names, photos, etc., in an attempt to visibly join the group and gain followers," said Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley.
Anyone can call themselves an Anonymous member and adopt their Guy Fawkes mask, other images and slogans, like "we are legions". It has no recognized leaders, making it more of a brand than an ordinary assembly.
An account with 120,000 followers, AnonNewz, had deleted all previous tweets before June 1, when it started promoting protests. But he had forgotten to exclude his old "likes", which were about Korean pop music, and interacted in the past with other K-pop fans by spreading gifts.
After researcher Marcus Hutchins of cybersecurity firm Kryptos Logic tweeted about the account, Twitter suspended it.
Twitter told Reuters it removed AnonNewz for "spam and coordination with other spammy accounts".
Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Leslie Adler