On SAGE Insight: Guardians of the Internet: Building and Sustaining the Anonymous Online Community

From Organization Studies

Online communities have displaced or become complements to organizations such as churches, labor unions and political groups which have traditionally been at the center of collective action. Yet, despite their growing influence and support of faster, cheaper and more flexible organizing, few empirical studies address how online communities are built and become enduring agents of social change. this inductive field study examines how an online community called Anonymous transitioned from being a small gathering of contributors focused on recreation to becoming a community of trolls, activists and hackers incubating myriad projects.

This study examines the Anonymous online community—a collective of Internet trolls, hackers and pranksters best known for their transgressive hijinks and for supporting high-profile social change efforts over the past decade. Anonymous has been described as “an internet gathering” with “a very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives” (Kelly, 2012) and has become a community in which a “sea of voices, all experimenting with new ways of being in the world” (Norton, 2012), weigh in on a range of global conflicts and social issues. The author captures Anonymous’s transition from a recreational community to one that, through engagement in increasingly ambitious projects and experimentation with ways of organizing, became an enduring assembly of tricksters and activists. This study supports the notion that technologies and cultural elements, within and outside the Internet, are entwined with and integral to social processes.

Abstract

Online communities have displaced or become complements to organizations such as churches, labor unions and political groups which have traditionally been at the center of collective action. Yet, despite their growing influence and support of faster, cheaper and more flexible organizing, few empirical studies address how online communities are built and become enduring agents of social change. Using Internet-based ethnographic methods, this inductive field study examines how an online community called Anonymous transitioned from being a small gathering of contributors focused on recreation to becoming a community of trolls, activists and hackers incubating myriad projects. Findings reveal that the interplay of digital technology and a culture of transgression supported experimentation that culminated with the adoption of a resilient organizing platform that enabled several community factions to coexist in continuous engagement. This paper infuses community building research with an important emphasis on the role of the techno-cultural, highlighting how online formation and maintenance processes are shaped and shape mutually contingent technologies and cultures.


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Article details
Guardians of the Internet: Building and Sustaining the Anonymous Online Community
Felipe G Massa
Organization Studies
DOI: 10.1177/0170840616670436


     
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