Anonymous #OpFerguson Brought Incident to the Attention of the World
Anonymous' Operation Ferguson campaign highlighted the shooting of teenger Micahel Brown around the world(Twitter)

The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday propelled the small St Louis suburb into the spotlight in the United States and across the globe.

That was followed by four days of clashes between heavily armed police and angry protestors, with the news making the front page of newspapers around the world.

Helping to highlight the problem was Anonymous, the amorphous hacktivist collective who wanted to highlight a perceived injustice and bring it to the attention of the world.

It did that with spectacular success, spreading the message of #OpFerguson through social media channels, reaching millions of people in all parts of the world.

It even reached the White House, with President Obama calling for an end ot the violence.

Tarnished

Then, on Thursday, just after 1pm UK time, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous published the name of the police officer it believed shot Michael Brown.

The problem was it was wrong, very wrong, and while the account itself was just one voice among the thousands who claim to be Anonymous, the irresponsible act tarnished the whole movement and negated any good work the group was seen to be doing.

The named person is in fact not a police officer at all. According to his stepmother – who spoke to USA Today - he works only has a police dispatcher in St Ann, Missouri.

Ferguson Police Tweet to Deny Anonymous Claims

"I guess I'm going to have to sleep with my gun and put cameras on the house," she said. "Now I have to defend myself and I didn't do anything wrong."

"Anonymous has really gotten out of hand," she added.

Once the St Louis County police department publicly denied the alleged person was the shooter, Twitter suspended the account in question (@TheAnonMessage), however the person(s) behind the account have since continued to speak using the @TheAnonMessage2 account.

No remorse

Reading the messages posted by that account in the last 12 hours, it seems clear there is little or no remorse about publishing the erroneous name and the impact it has had on him and his family.

Indeed on Friday morning, the account seemed to be claiming that releasing a false name was all part of an elaborate plan by Anonymous to force the police to release the name:

Initially, the police in Ferguson said they would not be releasing the name of the police officer in questions as there had been threats made against them.

However, following pressure from the public and the American Civil Liberties Union, the police chief revealed that the name of the officer involved is Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police force.

While @TheAnonMessage failed to go through the necessary checks to ascertain whether or not the information they had received was correct, there were other members of Anonymous who did.

Verification

A spokesperson for the @OpFerguson Twitter account told IBTimes UK they would not be releasing any names until they were properly verified:

"The name we have, which despite reports to the contrary we have NOT released publicly - came to us from a source who is very close to the officer. Once we receive either witness verification of the physical description, or a second independent and reliable source - we will release the information we have."

The spokesperson went on to say that it would rather not have to release the name, urging the police to do so first:

"That is unless the Ferguson PD does the right thing and releases it first, which we would prefer."

Not respected

Anonymous Account Not respected
Twitter

Another Twitter account, @Crypt0nymous, claims to have been speaking to @TheAnonMessage prior to the release of the incorrect name.

They claim to have IRC chat logs that show many questions were raised about the validity of the information about to be made public and that up to four separate names were being mentioned as possible identities for the shooter.

In the last 12 hours, many major Anonymous Twitter accounts have moved to distance themselves from @TheAnonMessage, with one saying it was "not widely respected by other anons".

Anonymous is Anonymous

The problem of course is that the revelation of the name made headlines across the globe. It was reported in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Washington Post and CNN.

And in all those accounts, it was reported that Anonymous released the police officer's name – not that "one member of Anonymous who many people don't respect" released a name.

Anonymous, by its very nature, does not have a structure. There are no leaders. Anyone can join by simply calling themselves "Anonymous", automatically becoming a part of the movement.

And while there are some benefits to this model, it also leads to the problem that the whole movement is tarnished and damaged by the actions of one rogue member.

Anonymous is an ever-evolving entity and while it has carried out some remarkable work in places such as Egypt and Syria to help those persecuted by oppressive regimes, it continues to be hampered by the actions of a few who seem to care more about making a name for themselves than highlighting injustice.