Talk 3/23: From Busting Cults to Breeding Cults: Anonymous Hacktivism vs. QAnon, Gabriella Coleman


This year's Morgan Lecture promises to be timely and provocative.

Department of Anthropology - University of Rochester 2022 Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture From Busting Cults to Breeding Cults: Anonymous Hacktivism vs. QAnon Gabriella Coleman Professor of Anthropology Harvard University Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 PM Sloan Auditorium, Goergen Hall 101

First emerging from the anonymous imageboard 4chan, Anonymous found its activist sea legs in 2008 during a worldwide protest campaign against the Church of Scientology. Not long after Anonymous surged in visibility and popularity as hackers used the name to lay claim to high-profile hacktivist actions. Other groups and individuals used it to coordinate dozens of political operations, often supporting social justice movements. A decade later, after Anonymous activity waned, different movements and currents, like the anonymous far-right and the conspiracy theorists QAnon had sprung forth from similar anonymous imageboards.

Like Anonymous, these movements and currents played integral, even outsized roles in various political arenas. In contrast to Anonymous, they often worked against the cause of social justice and, in its stead, supported reactionary, racist, conspiratorial or fascist political planks. How are we to understand this radical metamorphosis and the relationships between these currents and movements? In this talk, I will examine the role of critical events, translators, and larger political forces in accounting for their differences and address issues around anonymity, the difficulties in researching anonymous quarters of the internet, and popular journalistic accounts in meshing together aspects of these movements that should be pried apart. In so doing, I will make a case for careful historical analysis in media studies work and to call for the end of a class of categories, like Internet activism, that fails to capture the dynamics and importance of online tools for political movements today. The University of Rochester is committed to providing inclusive experiences and equal access to programs and services. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation, please contact Donna Mero (585-275-8614, dmero@ur.rochester.edu). In all situations, a good faith effort (up until the time of the event) will be made to provide accommodations.