The internet is quaking with the news that the hacktivist collective Anonymous plans to "destroy" Facebook on November 5th. We spoke to the Anonymous member who was there at the start of "Operation Facebook," and he told us the whole thing is a misunderstanding that's spiraled crazily out of control.
CNN reported this morning on an Anonymous-branded video which threatened to "kill Facebook" for privacy violations. In the video, a computerized voice foretells of a Facebook armageddon on November 5th—that's Guy Fawkes Day, which commemorates the 1605 plot to blow up the British House of of Lords: "Your medium of communication you all so dearly adore will be destroyed," the video says. Facebook is now girding itself for an assault. Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan told CNBC that "We take every one of those threats seriously."
After a stunning burst of media coverage, a number of popular Anonymous twitter accounts and news sources distanced themselves from Operation Facebook, claiming it was a hoax. But the truth is more complicated than that. It turns out there once was an Anonymous "Operation Facebook." It was dedicated not to destroying the site but raising awareness about its privacy practices. The current panic springs from some overeager hacktivists and media stumbling over the remnants of that abandoned operation and spinning it into a dastardly plot to destroy Facebook.
An Anonymous member named Speakeasy laid the whole story out in a document posted to Pastebin today. In an IRC chat today, Speakeasy said that "Operation Facebook" was launched months ago by him and about 10-20 other people in a room on the Anonymous chat server. However, their goal was not to "destroy" Facebook. The main purpose was to "bring awareness to Facebook keeping data even after you delete an account," Speakeasy said. (Facebook saves your personal information and continues to use it for data mining even if you delete your account.)
The group planned a two-pronged approach: They would 1) urge Facebook users to delete their profiles on November 5th as protest and 2) develop their own, privacy-friendly social networking alternative to Facebook. But in Mid-July Speakeasy and his buddies got bored of Operation Facebook and decided to shut it down. They turned the early code for their social network over to another group, Anonplus, and that, they thought, was that.
But they forgot to clean up after themselves, and the abandoned scraps of Operation Facebook became fodder for rumors of a spectacular attack against Zuckerberg's baby. See, the Operation Facebook kids had started a crowdsourced document to plan their protest; when they disbanded, everything was deleted from the document except for a single line warning Facebook that it would "never forget" November 5th—the date that had been floated for the mass account deactivation.
The chat room was left, empty except for a link to this cryptic threat. Eventually some Anons stumbled on the empty room and rumors started circulating about Operation Facebook. Speculation ranged from physical attacks on Facebook's server to some newly-discovered exploit that would bring the site crashing to its knees. Someone made a video about this new, destructive Operation Facebook—Speakeasy says they don't know who—media outlets picked up the video, which now has more than a million views. Now Facebook is slated to be destroyed by year's end.
Speakeasy is boggled by how the failed protest has spiraled out of control. "The whole thing is a massive clusterfuck and i feel responsible, so can someone sort that shit out?" he implores in his Pastebin document. "An attack on Facebook would be ridiculous," he explained in our chat. "Even if it succeeded, Facebook has a lot of users, and we want to help people, not hurt them."
The Operation Facebook saga shows the strength of the internet's collective Facebook death drive. Time and again, the mere hint of a Facebook apocalypse sends everyone into fits of titillated faux-terror. It also shows how Anonymous is driven as much by media attention as any internal hive mind. After the frenzy of news reports and blog posts, the old Operation Facebook room is filled with more people than ever. Only now they're tossing around outlandish ideas for attacking Facebook and its users, instead of planning a 'peaceful' protest. Operation Facebook might be back—for real, this time.