I'm terrified of Anonymous.
It's not a rational fear. I've been sold a bill of goods from the media about them - they'll steal your identity, post your credit card and banking information all over the Internet, sned infinite pizzas to your house, "all for the lulz", as they would say. And as I'm not terribly savvy about computers except the little I know to get by, there wouldn't be a whole hell of a lot I could do about it. Arising from the infamous /b/ board on 4chan, Anonymous has become a powerful force online and anyone who works or even plays on the Internet with any kind of regularity knows them and steers clear.
Except... Anonymous helped bring down the overly litigious aspects of the Church of Scientology, brought Internet access to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, were the direct downfall of a neo-Nazi radio host, and are undeniably a force for good, when they are turned in that direction. I never thought that a movie would shine such a light on a group that's been painted with such broad strokes of villainy by the international media, but WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS does just that, and the resulting movie is an outstanding documentary, one that shows Anonymous as a real agent of change in the world. And it all started with pictures of old guys screwing and clips from Dragonball Z.
Director and writer Brian Knappenberger has crafted a documentary that truly embodies the old Uncle Ben line, "With great power comes great responsibility." The history of Anonymous, and online activism, came from an innocuous place - simple pranks played for laughs. But as online communities formed, and we moved towards a life on the Internet, these random people who had no knowledge of each other's personal lives discover that they have a collective power - first to annoy, then to anger, and then to use that energy into something truly meaningful and powerful. It's like being front row to watching true poltical awareness coming to life, in a group of people who never had any idea that what they were doing online would lead to fighting for freedoms all over the world.
Is it a biased documentary? Oh hell yeah. WE ARE LEGION doesn't exactly shy over some of the nastier aspects of 4chan and Anonymous, but it doesn't dive into the truly disturbing aspects either. At the same time, the political awakening of Anonymous is shown to grow organically - first by taking down a hateful racist radio show, then fighting the Church of Scientology over freedom of speech and freedom of fear from prosecution, to Wikileaks and the hacking of PayPal and the credit card sites, all the way to the Occupy protests. The movie feels like a secret history, one that followers of mainstream media might not be privy to, and the various interviews with current and former members of Anonymous are enlightening and informative. It's a new world of protest out there, one that doesn't have any physical boundaries, and watching these young kids learn (some of them in harsher ways than others) just how powerful they can become is very moving.
Much of WE ARE LEGION is hilarious, especially as former members describe how they take down Hal Turner, a radio talk show host who decides to go after one of the members of 4chan and gets completely destroyed by them. The various trollings that make up the background of Anonymous are funny as presented, but I couldn't help but think that the movie sugarcoats that aspect of their history quite a bit. I've heard stories about 4chan trolling that are not presented here and are awful in every conceivable way. But as the group evolves, aspects of Anonymous - like the hacking rampage of Lulzsec, an offshoot - are also covered. The Playstation hack that angered many people on PSN is covered as well. There are aspects of Anonymous that are absolutely horrific, and then they provide a way for the protesting Egyptians to get internet access when the Mubarak government shuts it down. It's a strange dicotomy, and the movie does a terrific job of making sure that all the aspects are represented.
WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS is a protest film where the protesters don't physically sit at the counter but virtually deny access, and the movie takes pains to show that there is no moral difference. It's a rallying cry for the Internet generation, and documents a piece of history that many people had no idea existed. No matter how powerful and untouchable the elite become, there's always some kid on a laptop out there who can touch them, and that kid will probably use a middle finger to do it.