If you watch the news, you’ve probably heard about the hacker groups Anonymous and LulzSec. But unless you’re a member, you probably don’t know much about them. We Are Legion is a documentary designed to clue you in.
We Are Legion begins by looking at the culture on bulletin boards and web sites that gave rise to Anonymous and LulzSec. Sarcastic, outrageous, and transgressive, self-proclaimed nerds pranked each other for bragging rights. Then their trolling started to spill onto other web sites and even other media. Back in their own forums, common attitudes about turf, humor, respect, justice, and freedom started to crystallize, and groups began to form.
Specific members (and former members) of various groups are interviewed. Some give clean, well-lit, on-camera interviews. Others seem to be speaking via Skype, wearing masks. What they offer, more valuable than any technical jargon, is their own attitudes and motivations. Some hack from a sense of justice, others from a sense of recklessness or misanthropy. Hackers run the gamut between chaotic good and chaotic evil (says one hacker, quoting the D&D handbook).
We Are Legion draws a useful (if arbitrary) distinction between Anonymous, who targeted specific corporations they saw as serving censorship and repression; and LulzSec, who was more careless about hurting innocent bystanders.
We Are Legion doesn’t have a specific agenda to promote. Instead, the movie is more an educational introduction. “Here is something you’ve read about in the headlines,” it says, “and here are some of the people behind it. This is what they think, and this is why they do it. Here’s what you should know as an informed citizen.”
As an information-industry professional who follow the news, I found We Are Legion enlightening and interesting. As a film critic, I didn’t find a lot to love about the documentary. It joins a whole host of documentaries with interesting subjects with little value as cinema.
And that’s okay. Just know that if you buy a ticket for We Are Legion you are buying a computer-age civics lesson, not a fiery sequel to V for Vendetta.