Anger against societal injustices and the feeling of being disconnected from the political process are more likely to drive people to support Anonymous – the loose collective of hackers and online activists, psychologists have found.
The study showed that anger against the political system was the common factor in explaining the relationship between people's belief that they could or could not influence political affairs and their attitude toward Anonymous.
The findings suggest that Anonymous are seen as "social bandits" – the modern-day equivalent of figures such as Robin Hood or Jesse James who have traditionally been celebrated in local folklore as noble individuals who robbed the rich and gave to the poor, said Giovanni Travaglino, a psychologist at the University of Kent in the UK.
"Social Banditry" theory is where political grievances that cannot be otherwise voiced trigger anger against the political system, which in turn promote support for disruptive social actors.
In the study, published in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, the team found that people who reported feeling angry and powerless to change their political context were more likely to express their dissent vicariously in the form of support for Anonymous rather than engaging directly in the political processes (for instance by voting or protesting).
In addition, people who considered themselves to have an individualistic outlook were more likely to have a supportive attitude to groups like Anonymous.
In contrast, people with a collective view of society had stronger intentions to engage in direct political engagements such as voting or participate in a public demonstration.
This finding reflects Anonymous's role as channel for an individualistic desire of revenge against the system rather than a programme for collective and institutional social change and improvement, the researchers said.