An Anonymous-linked Twitter account has received £36,000 in funding to set up a website, in what could be the first step of the online hacktivist movement going mainstream.
The @YourAnonNews Twitter account has leveraged its 1 million followers to raise £36,000 for a new website. (Credit: Twitter)
For a high profile online collective of activists, it is strange that Anonymous doesn't have a website. Sure, it uses multiple internet channels to spread its message including Twitter, YouTube and Pastebin, but look for the official Anonymous home online and you simply won't find it.
The main reason for this is that Anonymous claims to have no hierarchical structure. There are no leaders, no followers. It believes itself to be a democratic organisation in the purest sense of the word, where the newest member has the same rights as the oldest.
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There is no secret Anonymous Council directing operations, no Glorious Leader who disseminates hacking wisdom from his fingertips. Everyone has a voice and anyone can be Anonymous just by calling themselves so.
That at least is the theory.
Now a prominent Anonymous-linked Twitter account, run by one of the most well-known members of Anonymous, has raised a significant amount of funding in order to set up a website which seeks to become a repository of breaking news from citizen journalists around the world.
The @YourAnonNews (YAN) Twitter account has over one million followers and has leveraged its popularity to successfully raise over $55,000 (£34,000) through a crowd-funding campaign on the Indiegogo website.
The funding drive was established to allow those behind the YAN account to set up a website of its own which will allow it "to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the best independent reporters online.
"We'll provide feeds for citizen journalists who livestream events as they are taking place, instead of the 10-second sound bites provided by the corporate media."
While those behind the account don't claim to be an official account for the Anonymous movement, it bears a lot of the hallmarks of the online hacktivist collective. It uses the familiar Guy Fawkes mask as its Twitter avatar and in the video for its Indiegogo campaign, it uses the same synthetized voice used in almost all Anonymous videos.
Therefore any website established by YAN will be seen as the de facto official Anonymous website, and those in charge will look to leverage its huge following and current popularity to drive traffic to the site.
The Twitter account has grown rapidly after being set up on 9 April, 2011 and almost two years to the day since it posted its first tweet the account passed the one million follower mark, posting on average 80 tweets per day.
High profile member
The person behind YAN was a high-profile member of Anonymous before the account was established - as well as being a member of an Anonymous off-shoot group called Cabin Crew.
Another member of Cabin Crew was hacktivist Higinio O. Ochoa III (also known as w0rmer) who was infamously tracked down by the FBI when he posted a picture of his girlfriend's cleavage on a website containing information stolen from various law enforcement agency websites. The picture also contained the message:
"PwNd by w0rmer & CabinCr3w <3 u BiTch's !"
Unfortunately for Ochoa, the picture taken with his iPhone still had the GPS data embedded in it and the FBI was able to use it to track him down.
According to Anonymous forums online, the person behind YAN, who lives in Denver and also tweets under the alias @AnonJackal, saw himself as the de facto leader of Anonymous following the defection of Hector Xavier Monsegur (aka Sabu) to the FBI in 2011.
Once the YAN account began attracting a lot of attention, it was clear that one person would not be able to maintain it on their own, so other Anonymous members were recruited to help out.
In documents leaked online (see below), the new members were given specific instructions on what they should post through the account. Within the instructions, users are warned: "YAN is perceived as being 'the official account Anonymous Twitter account.' I know it isn't, but that is how people see it. KEEP THIS IN MIND."
Instructions to those manning the @YourAnonNews Twitter account.
The account came to prominence last December when it was suspended for a brief period of time after it posted a picture related to the Westboro Baptist Church online. The account was unsuspended within a matter of hours and the image removed.
Specifics of how the new website will work and whether or not it would generate money are not exactly clear at the moment. According to the Indiegogo campaign page, the website aims to "create a new environment were content is not determined solely by external sources. We will engineer a new website which will allow us to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the best independent reporters online."
Over the past week, YAN has become even more prominent during the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent search for the perpetrators, reporting breaking news a lot faster than most mainstream media outlets - though some of that 'news' proved to be misleading.
The Indiegogo campaign sought just $2,000 as its goal, despite YAN clearly stating that server set-up alone would cost $3,600.
In total 1,307 people donated money to the campaign with perks such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, buttons and sweatshirts promised to those who gave money.
Raising such a large amount of money has raised the suspicions, with some people on a Reddit thread questioning the sense in so many people giving a large amount of money to someone they don't know and to a venture which isn't well-defined.
As the Anonymous movement grows, it is only a matter of time before someone looks to make money from its popularity.
While a website giving citizen journalists a space to tell their stories sounds like a good idea, the ill-defined nature of how the website is going to operate and how it is going to make money means many people are sceptical about its motives.
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