KENT, England — What the Fawkes: People who support “Anonymous” — the mysterious online organization comprised of “hacktivists” best known for launching cyberattacks on government websites as a means of protest — are more likely to feel disconnected from their country’s political process and angry towards the system as a whole, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Kent in England conducted two related studies — one in the U.S. and the other in the UK involving more than 700 people total — hoping to examine why people identified with the masked hacktivist collective.
In both studies, those who felt resent toward their country’s affairs and powerless as a citizen were more likely to use support for Anonymous as a proxy for political dissent, the researchers found.
In other words, advocacy for groups like Anonymous was a way to vicariously support social change — and more effective than staging a physical protest or even casting a vote in an election.
These findings fall in line with what researchers have termed “social banditry” theory, in which repressed social grievances manifest into outright anger against the political system, spurring the rise of disruptive social actors (i.e., “social bandits”).
Lead researcher Dr. Giovanni Travaglino compares Anonymous actors to mythical and historical figures such as Robin Hood and Jesse James, whose claim to fame was stealing from the rich to redistribute their wealth to the less fortunate.
The second study also found that those who had an individualistic outlook on life were most inclined toward supporting groups like Anonymous, while those with a more collectivist mindset were predisposed toward direct political engagement, such as voting or demonstrating.
This reflects how Anonymous serves as a vehicle for personal vengeance on social issues for many supporters, as opposed to a program for collective and institutional social change, Travaglino notes.
The study’s findings were published last month in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.