Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Amelia Arsenault

Second Advisor

David Cheshier

Third Advisor

Shawn Powers

Fourth Advisor

Allan Louden


There is an ongoing struggle in the digital public sphere over the signification of “Anonymous.” Anonymous exists at the intersection of multiple discursive networks battling for control of the internet including governments, private corporations, non-governmental organizations, individual citizens and multi-lateral institutions. In this dissertation, I propose to document and analyze the battle for signification and re-signification of “Anonymous” between the American network state and hacktivist networks that deploy the moniker Anonymous.

Internally, I argue that Anonymous is a meme complex used by counterpublic networks of satire and/or dissent. Anonymous originated in a digital civic space: the image board 4chan. The tactics of Anonymous reflect the creative culture of 4chan. On 4chan, participants share, alter, create and exchange memes. Anonymous networks practice “image politics” and operate on a logic of mass inclusion that treats the cyberspace as a location of direct action as well as organization.

Externally, Anonymous highlights the contradictory nature of American responses to hacktivism. While there is universal rejection of Anonymous within the American network state, the State Department rhetorically supports hacktivism in places such as Egypt while the FBI, US Cyber Command, and NSA label domestic hacktivists as terrorists. The outcome of the rhetorical battle over Anonymous has implications for the future of free speech and protest in cyberspace. Domestic penalties for cyberactivists are severe, and the preservation of the rhetorical space for digital protest is under threat.


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