A Compelling Thriller About Power In Cyberspace
Strong and successfully staged social and political protests engaging legions of people are always fascinating, but especially so when they involve the intrigue of anonymity and the talents of participants with some sort of superior skills. We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists is covers the behind the headlines story of Anonymous, a large and largely secret group of computer savvy activists who are determined to protect the public's interests and/or avenge the 'victims' of powerful public and corporate entities that influence or control the behavior of the masses.
Organized Defiance and Subversion
Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger's profile of computer 'hacktivism' goes back to its origins MIT, where brainiacs figured out how to piece computer security, often just as a fun and engaging challenge. But hacking is a skill set that has surfaced in serious cases of fraud, theft and terrorism -- in real life and in narrative feature films.
Anonymous is its own story. The group, which exists primarily in cyberspace, flexed its muscles by exposing Hal Turner, a neo-Nazi Internet radio host who was revealed to be a paid FBI informant.
They then went on to attack the Church of Scientology for pulling that infamous and embarrassing internal video of Tom Cruise from Internet sites, and then the Australian government for blocking Internet access, and they subsequently caused crashes at PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa when they terminated the functions that were used to donate funding to WikiLeaks.
Who Is Anonymous?
Anonymous is a loosely organized group that exists via the Internet, and its members' true identities are generally not known -- sometimes not even to each other. When members appear in public as a group, they generally do so wearing identical masks, so as to keep their identities secret.
But, Knappenberger, who is clearly sympathetic to Anonymous and its activism, focuses on and interviews several of the group's leaders, including 20 year old Mercedes Haefer, one of the "Anonymous 16" who were accused of being responsible for disruption of PayPal and other financial sites in 2011. Haefer and others were arrested by the FBI and face criminal charges for their hacktivism.
Through interviews with Haefer and other Anonymous members who were willing to step into the spotlight, Knappenberger develops a revealing profile of the Anonymous ethos, as well as a timeline for the group and its activities, and a history of its evolution.
He also discovers that opinion within Anonymous is anything but unanimous, although the group as a whole continues to grow in numbers and influence, despite organized efforts to shut the collective down.
An Internet Thriller
Whether you're computer savvy or not, or understand the technical strategies discussed in the film or not, We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists is a galvanizing real life thriller about the powers of that rule cyberspace. Images of 'Anonymous' masked masses are gripping, and the documentary's quick fire style of investigation is accelerated by a forceful, uptempo soundtrack.
Good Guys and Villains
If We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists has a short coming, it's that there is little commentary or representation from the individuals or corporate entities whose business has been targeted and disrupted by the hacktivists. They may be villains, and Knappenberger might be entirely justified in presenting them as such. But his sympathetic presentation of the 'Anonymous' leadership and legions, and their 'hacktivism' as a form of protest, would be stronger if the film were more balanced.
Nevertheless, the group and the 'hacktivism' movement are not going to fade from view anytime soon, and this film is an important primer about a social and political force that is to be reckoned with. And, this documentary is one to be reckoned with, as well.
If You Like This Documentary, You May Also Like:
- If A Tree Falls: A Story From The Earth Liberation Front
- Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry
- The Cove
- This is Not A Film
- Title: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
- Directors: Brian Knappenberger
- US Theatrical Release Date: October 19, 2012
- Running Time: 93 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Locations: Various cities in the US, cyberspace
- Language: English
- Production Country: USA
- Production Company: Luminant Media
- Official Website