Way ahead in the future, if someone were to write a history book about today, then the recent years starting from the global financial crisis, covering the commencement of US troop pull-out from Iraq and the power of the people in the Middle-East ideally termed as 'Arab Spring', then the time period from 2009 to 2012 could potentially lead to many fat chapters. In all of these events, the role of the internet cannot be underestimated. Sometimes it was the watchdog and at other times it was the cavalry on the frontlines. One thing is certain - it IS a massive tool for any kind of struggle today.
Perhaps the best armor the internet provides its wielders is anonymity. They say a voice of dissent has many enemies, but what if they did not know who you were? You could be one person, you could be a hundred and no one would ever know. That is the machinery that works for the internet based "hacktivism" group who call themselves 'Anonymous'. Nobody clearly knows how it all began. In fact, if you were to stumble upon an online forum on this group, the people claiming to represent them under a plethora of archaic usernames and IDs would say that 'Anonymous' was there since the dawn of time. Ever since there has been dissent, certain people have found ways to let their voice be heard without fear of retaliation or witch-hunt.
However, those who have been quite internet savvy (and I don't mean people who have two Facebook accounts and two hundred Twitter followers) in the last decade, would remember how a group formed on the online imageboard domain, "4chan" as a way of protesting (read ridiculing and mocking while making a lot of sense) the Church of Scientology. No one knows if it was all one person's work or the result of a collective effort, but the one thing that bonded all of them together was the moniker, Anonymous - something a site or forum uses to address a user who comments or posts without providing a username.
The interesting thing about the rise of Anonymous is that its 'work', for lack of a better word, has coincided and been based around a lot of other people's movements, particularly against the established order. Unofficially, Anonymous is clearly an ally of WikiLeaks, the collective founded by journalist Julian Assange that was famous (or infamous if you're siding with the government) for exposing many secret cable reports by the US Military during the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. When financial support to WikLeaks was withdrawn by major corporations like Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, etc. Anonymous took it upon itself to launch its own retaliation campaign by attacking the sites of these agencies. Even the CIA was not spared. Mind you, none of these attacks were particularly harmful - it was more of a statement which let the government know "look what we can do if we want to".
One of the biggest contributions of Anonymous in a major world event was the hype it helped build around the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in USA. The slogan "we are the 99%" was coined during this campaign and Anonymous made sure that people all over the world were aware of what was going on. This does make sense to someone with an anarchist spark inside as history had made it very clear that most news that goes global is being controlled by big corporations and spreading the pro-"occupy" message is not something that would make headlines with something like FOX news. Even George Orwell had said - "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations."
Anonymous has also had branch factions in different countries which carry out similar protest movements in localized areas. Recently, the Indian State tried to ban many websites and domains fearing the spread of dissent amongst the people in the largest democracy in the world. It would have clearly slipped past many people in the country had the authorities not tried to block some video sites like Vimeo and torrent sites like isohunt.com and ThePirateBay.org. A lot of people all around the world use these sites for various kinds of data exchange. To protest against this kind of censorship Anonymous India was formed. This group has targeted many Internet Service Providers' homepages where they have put up their clauses. Some of these sites were hacked so that they could be redirected to any of the banned sites.
Online activism such as this raises a few pertinent questions, the most obvious one of them being - "If the sites of government agencies and big corporations can be hacked so easily, then how safe is the average man who probably has tons of personal info stored in private accounts online?". Well, the answer can get a little condescending, almost like reassuring a child that there is no monster under the bed. There are dissidents to Anonymous as well. Parmy Olson, in her book "We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency," says that a new word needs to be created to define a phenomenon like Anonymous as 'movement' doesn't quite fit the bill. She says it is also a process or a method of activism whose potential has not yet been fully understood. In the Batman film, The Dark Knight, Alfred Pennyworth says regarding the Joker - "..in their desperation they turned to someone they did not fully understand." As of now, this is the closest analogy for Anonymous.
The one thing that is certain is that there is no point trying to figure out who Anonymous is, or who they are. They heavily borrow connotations from the Guy Fawkes figurehead and so let us use yet another movie analogy as a conclusion that clears the air a bit. This one is from the movie "V for Vendetta" -
Evey Hammond: Who are you?
V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.
Evey Hammond: Well I can see that.
V: Of course you can. I'm not questioning your powers of observation; I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.