Silverdocs Recap: “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists”
With such close proximity to Washington D.C., the epicenter of all things politics in the United States, it’s only fitting that my first screening of We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists was at Silverdocs Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. In the small but quaint Discovery Theater located in the Discovery Communications headquarters the film played with all ages, genders, and social scenes in attendance for what proved a polarizing Q&A following.
The film opens questioning what I feel represents the beginning of the so-called hacktivist movement and the fuel for so many of the actions of Anonymous and other individual net-savvy pranksters: what the **** is going on? The world is changing in a crazy way, that much we can all agree on. But, the manner in which our country specifically identifies growing ‘threats’ to society is changing in a way that raises eyebrows.
Some would call breaking down the door of a young 17 year old girl sitting behind a computer and dragging her off for questioning justified on the basis of National Security. And why? Well, even though the world IS changing it does so while having ALREADY changed. Today even computer nerds can wind up on a wanted list, and that’s what makes We Are Legion not only topical but a fantastic doc peering into a world only some understand well. The result is a film that lives up to the hype, and here’s why.
The film gives you what you want and a lot of it: members of Anonymous and those affiliated with their cause telling the story of the hacktivism revolution that has swept the nation and been focused on the faceless group Anonymous. Identified by the Guy Fawkes mask only, this group is finally given a human face and a name and an audience who wants to know who they are and how they think. Fascinatingly, each and every member interviewed from those under litigation to those successfully living their eyes has a personal account of the complicated history of Anonymous and hacktivists.
The website 4chan is at the center of the story, it’s the birthplace of the Anonymous handle and the virtual community that showcases the true origins of hacktivism: pranking. Simple pranks, designed by people with not so simple ways of thinking turned fun into focus where nerds were the focal point (much to their inexperience) and the nation couldn’t stop talking about them. When the activities of this group became more organized, much like in the case of Scientology, Mastercard & Visa, and Egypt, is when Anonymous gained legs and soared this issue straight to the top.
We Are Legion chose its genre well: the documentary lens is perfect for dissecting exactly what changed the hacktivism movement into such a politically aware vehicle that drove its way into the center of a movement as large as a regime change in Egypt. Brian Knappenberger hit the jackpot with his happenstance of covering events preluding events like the uprising of the Egyptian people like the DDoSing of Paypal, and he capitalized on the advantage by having his film featured in Sundance earlier this year when the hacktivist movement was on fire in the public eye.
For me, the film was a little more than a good doc about righteous nerds: it was a look into what could have been. To understand that the enjoyment of chatting on IRC and Ventrillo, from ridiculous memes and phrases to time-consuming video gaming could have led to political unrest is something of a dream you never want to wake up from. Needless to say, We Are Legion is a well-edited documentary. The voices of those supposedly hold-up in their mom’s basement has long since needed to heard, good on Knappenberger for charging this film’s power level to OVER 9000!!!