After declaring all-out war on the Islamic State (IS) following the terror attacks in Paris, members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous have launched what they call an "intelligence gathering and takedown operation" to identify and report "supporters of people behind the Paris attacks." The operation has already proven divisive, however, with some critics within Anonymous questioning the motives of the individuals behind the new campaign.
The operation — dubbed #OpParis — claims to continue previous efforts by Anonymous to track down IS-related Twitter accounts and get them suspended. Anonymous members told VICE News the new operation is currently focused on gathering intelligence about the militant group's "cyber operations and recruiting."
"We have been gathering intel about ISIS, a lot of their Twitter accounts and their websites," one Anonymous member told VICE News via a chat on the collective's AnonOps website. "We have also gathered IP's [Internet Protocol addresses] of their internet providers."
Another member explained that the collective is working in teams, with one team gathering possible accounts, another verifying, and a third determining what actions could be taken against the account.
A website for #OpParis and a separate statement posted online instruct people interested in participating to search for Twitter accounts and to post them into a list of potential targets. An FAQ on the site says Anonymous will not coordinate any targeted online offensives, such as repeated Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, which knock sites offline by bombarding them with traffic from multiple sources. For now, they are just "gathering intel."
"What you can do to help with this operation is to report ISIS social media accounts," the group said in a video posted just days after the attack. "You may not think that you are helping towards suppressing the actions of ISIS but you are effectively disrupting their communications and preventing them from planning more acts of terrorism towards the Western world, thus saving countless lives."
Twitter did not immediately respond to an inquiry from VICE News seeking to confirm whether the company has been receiving an increased number of reports about IS-related accounts.
In response to the video, IS sympathizers have reportedly called the hacker collective "idiots" and posted tips on how to avoid potential attacks.
Recent tweets from Anonymous and other accounts associated with the group point to a possible mass DDOS attack in December, as part of the group's #OpISIS campaign launched earlier this year.
Beyond taking a few Twitter accounts offline, it's unclear what exactly Anonymous hopes to accomplish with its latest operation, and whether it will have any significant impact on IS. Some Anonymous affiliates have criticized the operation and likened it to a publicity stunt.
"I think we should oppose terrorism everywhere, but after the events in Paris Anonymous decided to create this operation because of the massive media attention it has been getting," an Anonymous member who uses the Twitter handle @AnonDiscordian wrote in a statement. "This has nothing to do with stopping ISIS (didn't we already have Operation ISIS?) It's about stroking the ego of Anonymous in a desperate attempt to be relevant."
Other Twitter accounts affiliated with Anonymous echoed that sentiment, questioning the motives of the people behind #OpParis. An individual identified as Backslash from the @GroupAnon Twitter account responded in a separate statement.
"The truth is, we didn't declare war on Daesh as a result of the Paris attacks," the statement said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. "We have been involved in #OpISIS since before the summer. To those jumping on the #OpParis bandwagon, we simply say this: if you really want to do something, if you really care, then let your actions back up your words."
A recent Anonymous operation that aimed to expose Ku Klux Klan members in the United States was widely criticized for containing false information that, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, sparked an unjustified "media frenzy."
Mark Pitcavage, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told VICE News after the KKK operation that the group needs to be more careful in claiming that individuals are linked to hate groups or terrorism.
"If they're not careful to confirm that each and every single name released is somehow truly connected to a Ku Klux Klan group, they run the risk of defaming someone," he noted. "You have to be very careful and responsible or you run the risk of hurting someone's career, reputation, and livelihood."
Follow Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn on Twitter: @yukvon