HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

Directed by Brian Knappenberger

What interests me the most in We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, and I’m not sure if I’m offended by it, is their use of the word ‘rape’. The word is used from feminism to ecofeminism, but hacktivists incorporate the word, like raping the bandwidth of a website using free downloadable programs. One can rape a person or even a country. But using the term for corporations? I can’t associate one idea with the other. But these hacktivists make it possible, the Internet becoming an equalizer making an individual as strong as whole religions or countries.

We are Legion takes us to the past decade when Christopher Poole founded 4chan, a website that ends up being the ‘butthole of the internet’. Saying ‘rape’ and ‘asshole’ comes from 4chan’s first generation ethos of going into any other website and typing or displaying the most offensive words or images for lulz.

The movie and 4chan’s turning points occur when they encounter a racist radio personality Hal Turner, whose life they deservedly ruined. Funnily enough, they receive every opportunity to do the same by inadvertently gaining one enemy after another. First is the Church of Scientology, who sent out letters of cease and desist after it posted a private recruitment video featuring Tom Cruise in 4chan and many other websites. Scientology’s antagonism eventually makes many 4cham members found and join a group called Anonymous, disturbing corporate peace both online and in real life.

Their list of targets grows into media companies, credit card companies and governments who approve of censorship and limited internet rights. Their biggest achievement then is their contribution to the Arab Spring, borne out of giving Tunisians internet access after their government blocked online use. The thing is, whatever good deeds they do are treated with suspicion so they have an uphill climb, since there are many factions of Anonymous doing evil as much as there are members doing good deeds.

The delightful thing about We Are Legion is that it starts the discourse about activism, having its fragmented state since the globalization movement. The movie highlights the good over the bad within this maligned group, putting importance towards Anonymous’ contributions over those of the mainstream media who are either tardy or ignored. But aside from this intellectual stimulation, it’s also a story of a generation of sixteen year-old geeks growing up. Featured ex-Anonymous members talk about realizing what they and their computers’ potentials can be, and how they can change the world. It’s also about their pride in their achievements despite religious and government intimidation.

I guess the only thing I can say is that the movie, having equal parts of talking heads, archive footage and animation, is visually conventional. It looks like a documentary, so what? This movie screen depicts many computer screens, which surprisingly bring a new flavour of cultural familiarity. It’s one of the most informative movies I’ve seen, teaching its audience that infiltrating and many other tactics can bring democracy back to our steeply stratified society. It also lives up to capturing the wide scope of people and events that it promises.

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