Self- reporting for self-defence: How Anonymous uses video journalism to protect themselves:Posted: March 23, 2011
The online group ‘Anonymous’ has been credited with various online campaigns from the mischievous to the controversial to the bizarre. Their activities range from releasing spoilers on the plot of the Harry Potter novels to bringing down major credit card websites as a response to what they perceive as abuses of power. They have been called cyberterrorists, pranksters, and perhaps most famously as ‘hackers on steroids’
However they are perhaps best known for their campaigns against the Church of Scientology. This movement, known as Project Chanology has seen Anonymous members leave the online world and take to the streets to protest against the Church –which they argue is a dangerous cult.
Footage of protests is hardly unusual (we need only think back to the student riots) but what makes these videos different is the fact that they have been filmed by the protestors themselves both to publicise their campaign and, they argue, to protect themselves from the Church of Scientology.
The Church is known to film its critics without their permission – a phenomenon witnessed first-hand by John Sweeney when filming a Panorama episode on the group.
The ‘Fair-Game’ policy to which Sweeney refers supposedly advises Scientologists to use extreme methods to oppose critics including long-term harassment.
For Anonymous the most effective way to combat the Church is to use their own methods against them – in this case, filming Scientology agents who arrive at the demonstrations and attempt to film unmasked protestors.
And for now, these techniques seem to work. As a controversial movement for which media management is an extremely high priority, the Church is highly sensitive to bad press.
Protest videos that show actions against a corrupt Government are inherently limited by the regime’s power to suppress access to the internet. The Church of Scientology has no such countermeasure.
By using simple and cheap recording equipment and the internet as a platform Anonymous are able to reach a vast audience with any evidence they have of wrongdoing on the part of the Church.
I have previously written on the shortcomings of online video as a revolutionary tool in the Middle East. There, the power of the regime to control the online world inevitably limits the power of online activism. But in the case of Project Chanology where the state imposes little or no restriction on the protestors online campaigns, it seems that the pen, and its descendant the computer, is still mightier than the sword.
By Alan O’Doherty