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Exhilarating and Terrifying': Anonymous Premiers 'Hacktivist' Documentary at SXSW


"If you so much as sneeze on someone's tablet and the government's not happy about it, you're a hacker."

A documentary about the hacker collective Anonymous and hacktivism as a whole premiered this week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) social media and technology conference.

According to the website for "We are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists," the documentary takes hacktivism back to its historical roots with groups like "Cult of the Dead Crow" and "Electronic Disturbance Theater." It shows how hacktivism has "redefined civil disobedience for the digital age." The film also explores the role of Anonymous in movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

Watch the trailer released for the documentary in Nov. 2011 (Warning: Strong language and some visual content):

In the film, many share their thoughts about the group. One said, "Right now, you could argue that the most powerful people on Earth are a bunch of nameless, faceless 17 to 35-year-olds." He goes on to say that the geo-political impact of the group it is both "exhilarating and terrifying."

So far, the film has been getting rave reviews Twitter from those who attended the premier:

Austin's KUT News (via the Huffington Post) reported on a panel session at the conference that featured filmmaker Brian Knappenberger and Gregg Housh, who was involved in the early "branding" of Anonymous. KUT reports that while the panel did touch on elements of the film, it focused on the movement as a whole covering issues like Anonymous' hacking techniques and some of its targets:

The conversation dwelt upon recent and current events, including the revelation that Anonymous member “Sabu,” a powerful figure in Anonymous offshoot LulzSec, had been cooperating with federal authorities following his arrest. But a discussion two of LulzSec’s most controversial techniques – “doxing,” or releasing sensitive information about individuals online; and attacks on press outlets – sparked a broader conversation.

Housh said he was “on the fence” about doxing. While finding it objectionable, he cited an argument hackers make when they dump personal information online: “If we got in, then somebody else got in there already … We have to dump our data or you’re not going to believe it’s already out there when we dumped it.”

Regarding press attacks, Knappenberger cited Anonymous’ dissatisfaction with a report PBS’ “Frontline” aired on Bradley Manning, the army sergeant accused of providing thousands of diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Dissatisfied with PBS’ treatment on the story, LulzSec allegedly broke into the PBS NewsHour webpage, posting a story claiming that deceased rapper Tupac Shakur is “still alive in New Zealand.”

“Anonymous should not be attacking the press,” said Housh, adding that if he deemed that acceptable, he’d need to “change my thoughts on free speech.”

KUT also states that three Anonymous members donning Guy Fawkes masks joined the panel -- two via video stream and one in person. One of the members said that the group's nameless, faceless and collective nature is both a blessing and a curse. He said it shows Anonymous' power when only a small group of people can take down a website using a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS). This type of attack popular with the group is how sites like the Department of Justice, CIA and a variety of local government and private company sites have been temporarily flooded with traffic that stalls the server. On the flip side though, it also means that "any one person can co-opt Anonymous."

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