Pedro Rufo /

April 15, 2013; The Guardian

Writing for the Guardian, Fruzsina Eordogh observes that Anonymous is changing its image over time, not only through the causes it adopts, but through the way it interacts with the public. She points out, for instance, that Anonymous has become a super-effective PR machine. Getting headlines and focusing and refocusing the world’s attention pretty much weekly on one social issue after another like “white knights of the digital realm.”

Eordogh points to Anonymous taking up the cause of justice for Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old who killed herself after an alleged rape and bullying by her Nova Scotian classmates. This campaign, says Eordogh, is #OpJustice4Rehtaeh on Twitter, and as she points out, “all types of people—from journalists and teens to women who normally wouldn’t associate with Anonymous—have been spreading Anonymous’ related material in the name of Parsons since Tuesday, after news of her mother turning off her daughter’s life support made global headlines.” (In that the same week, Anonymous cyber-assaulted North Korean social media accounts and Israeli websites, which demonstrates the breadth of their attention.)

She goes on to say that the “concerned non-Canadians and feminists in faraway places that joined in the online protest don’t consider themselves ‘hacktivists’ and are unafraid of being labeled hacktivist sympathizers. The spooky criminal portrayal of Anonymous has melted from the public consciousness, to be replaced with an image of strangers in pale masks passionate about improving society, one cause at a time.”

The goal of #OpJustice4Rehtaeh was to get the Canadian justice and police department to review the case for which no one has ever been convicted. Apparently, the clicktivism paid off, as the four rapists were identified by the public in just a few hours and Anonymous threatened to expose their names if they were not arrested. This lead Eordogh to observe that “Anonymous’ core strength lies in its PR tactics, not its boots-on-the-ground protests or actual hacking skills.”

She says that this expansion of interest has incited Australian security expert Stilgherrian to call the network the “Hello Kitty of activism.” Peter Ludlow of the New York Times compares them to gadflies, speaking truth to power and thus stinging those in power in ways that spur action, but also may bring them into harm’s way.—Ruth McCambridge