Over the weekend, CNN aired the cable news network’s first investigative report on Anonymous, the hacktivist collective that’s been making headlines since at least 2008.
While Wired and other tech outlets have done in-depth looks at Anonymous recently, the report was the first time a mainstream media network attempted to probe into the hacker group’s workings.
CNN’s teasers had the Anon collective worried. @AnonyOps, one of the leading Twitter accounts for the collective, predicted the report would be “even more biased than [the] excerpt.”
Artist exiledsurfer, a supporter of Anonymous and occasional creator of imagery for the group, called the teaser “propaganda,” latching onto the quote about Anonymous wanting to start a revolution in the United States.
But reactions to the actual broadcast were mixed. Casual supporters of Anonymous enjoyed the piece, while long-time Anons, as members of Anonymous call themselves, found the report to be lacking in various ways.
Many Anonymous Twitter users took great pride in the statement law enforcement officers were too scared to speak out about Anonymous on camera for fear of retribution. Whether or not the segment was intended to scare viewers, it had that effect.
The full-length, 15-minute report touched on #OpBart, a San Francisco-based operation to protest a local transit authority, as well as AntiSec’s hack of Stratfor, a security consultancy.
The CNN report also attempted to define “trolling”—the term for deliberately provoking a reaction from a target. Gabriella Coleman, an anthropology professor studying Anonymous in Montreal, argued that all Anonymous actions are in some sense trolling.
But CNN’s producers spent most of their time focusing on Occupy Wall Street. That focus was a point of contention for Anons and non-Anons alike.
(While Anonymous has taken many actions in support of Occupy Wall Street, it’s not an Anonymous-launched effort. AdBusters, a Canadian magazine, first called for a physical occupation of lower Manhattan to protest the finance industry.)
The CNN report “focused a lot on OWS, and it wasn’t done very well,” an Anonymous operative who claimed responsibility for releasing a law-enforcement official’s personal information told the Daily Dot. (The CNN report briefly touched on that Anonymous action.)
Others argued that CNN didn’t interview the right people—like “Troy,” whom critics said was more of a protester than a hacker. The Anonymous community has grown more welcoming of supporters who simply want to lend the effort their moral support, but Anons disagree on whether they should be called “members” of Anonymous.
“CNN's in-depth look at Anonymous is pretty interesting, but a tad bit inaccurate. That's what you get for interviewing non members,” tweeted student newspaper reporter Julia Alexander.
The AnonyOps Twitter account later called the report “generally decent,” but said there were “some errors & omissions.” Like many critics, it didn’t cite specifics—a weakness of much of the reaction.
Perhaps they’ll have more to complain about—or celebrate—in the future. CNN reporter Amber Lyon tweeted that she’ll be doing additional segments on the group.
Photo by Lourenço Parente