review⇒ WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists

packed theatre watches the film

The Internet and its attendant technology has ushered in change more dramatic than any previously seen in human history. Even worse, this technological revolution has happened with blinding speed.

Even though we’ve reached a point in Canada where most of us — from toddlers to seniors — use the Internet in our daily lives, most of us don’t really understand much of what has happened to the world as a result.

And a natural human reaction is to fear what we don’t understand. Scary sounding crimes called Identity Theft and Hacking didn’t exist when I was growing up. So when we hear scary sounding words like cyberterrorists and hactivists we are scared. We don’t know what these things are, exactly, but that just makes it worse. How do you protect yourself against what you don’t understand?

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that :

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

Arthur C. Clarke, Third Law

And there has never been as good an illustration of Clarke’s third law as the Internet.

in Canada

Onstage: panelist wearing Guy Fawkes mask
Anonymous panelist

Right now there is a Private Member’s Bill before parliament called “Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act.” If this passes, the Criminal Code of Canada will make it illegal for Canadians to cover our faces. Some point out that it will only be illegal for “Riots and Unlawful Assemblies.” The catch is that only the government gets to decide when a lawful assembly becomes unlawful.

Normally private member’s bills don’t get a lot of traction, even when presented by a member of a majority government. The few that do become law usually require multiple tries to get support. But this bill has sailed through first and second reading with massive support because people are afraid of masked protesters.

After all, what could be more frightening than Anonymous?


When an arch-villain of epic reach and power rises up from the magical realm of the Internet — and then successfully attacks powerful multinationals and governments — it shakes our world view.

Nothing like Anonymous has ever existed before in the history of the world. The closest example I can think of is the mythical many headed hydra; when the hero cuts one off head, two more sprout in its place.

Onstage: Director Knappenberger on the Hot Docs panel
Director Brian Knappenberger

The apparent omniscience and omnipotence of a such a group is disconcerting, as is its lack of accountability.

Who is “Anonymous”?

And why do they do the things they do?

Documentarian Brian Knappenberger has done a masterful job weaving together the stories of several members of Anonymous. His film, WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists puts a face on Anonymous.

Although some of the interview subjects utilized various methods of obscuring their identities, several don’t. As the narrative unfolds it becomes apparent that some of these have already been “outed” by the American Justice System.

Pay Pal 14 defendant Mercedes Haefer points out that the price of her online activism as a member of Anonymous she faces a prison sentence years longer than any a convicted pedophile would receive. She is one of the idealistic young people facing incredible jail sentences for what attorney Stanley Cohen characterizes as virtual sit-ins.

Onstage: Ms. Coleman on the panel
McGill University’s Gabriella Coleman answers questions following the screening

One of the experts interviewed in the film is McGill University’s Gabriella Coleman, currently the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy. Coleman helps make sense of Anonymous, providing insight into both the behaviour and the evolution of the decidedly non-hierarchical group.

This film was both thorough and informative. But it’s also an eminently well constructed documentary, as good as any I’ve ever seen.

see the film

In many ways, this film is a biography; Brian Knappenberger has crafted a powerful film that demystifies Anonymous.

No matter how much or how little you know about civil rights in the Internet age, WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists is well worth seeing.

There will be two more screenings at the Toronto HotDocs Festival, 3:00pm Thursday May 3rd & 7:00pm Saturday May 5th at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 350 King Street West, Toronto

Note: Advance Tickets for Saturday’s screening are already sold out; arrive early for “Rush” tickets.

Following the Hot Docs screening, Director Brian Knappenberger takes a question

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