‘I have $200k, half of that could be yours. Just make sure to give the man a bad review.’
It’s an hour into my webchat with a fugitive hacker and a playwright, and things are getting a bit out of hand.
The play I’m being asked to slate is Tim Price’s ‘Teh Internet Is Serious Business’, a sort of deranged history of the Anonymous hacking collective, whose quixotic crimes – attacking everyone from The Church of Scientology to the Tunisian government – made the six members of spin-off group LulzSec some of the most wanted on the web. Five were arrested: Price’s play focusses on young Brit members Mustafa Al-Bassam and Jake Davis.
One remains at large: his (or her) handle is AVUnit, and the three of us are in a secure chatroom, hosted on a specially chosen Russian server.
‘The reason I chose to write a play about Anonymous,’ explains Price, ‘is that I have previously written about Chelsea Manning and the Occupy movement, and the Anonymous story kept cropping up. I knew it was something that needed to be staged. Somehow.’
The script is a strange, chaotic storm of words and characters in which Tflow, Topiary and AVUnit mingle with the likes of Anxiety Cat and Pedobear. Price won’t give any clues as to how it will be staged. But he has roped in AVUnit to offer insights into the real events.
‘Of course it was criminal,’ the hacker writes. ‘But maybe in the moral sense not. Log in someone’s DB [database] and steal passwords and you’re a criminal. Log in someone’s DB and write an article about Tupac being alive in New Zealand [this did actually happen] and you get 300k Twitter followers.’
What comes across in Price’s script is the buccaneering nature of Anonymous. Their crimes were committed in the spirit of lulz and social justice and it’s hard to label what they did as simply criminal.
‘What AVUnit, Jake and Mustafa did was so groundbreaking the judiciary struggled to know how to prosecute them,’ writes Price. ‘As part of their bail conditions Jake and Mustafa couldn’t go on any internet connected devices. So Mustafa had to sit an A-level, where one module was taught and assessed entirely online, using print-outs. The management of their case was in large parts witless.’
The interview starts to derail when I ask if Anonymous’s bizarre rules of the internet (sample: ‘If it exists, there is porn of it.’) were dreamt up by the playwright.
‘He did, he has been the rulemaster of the internet for the past 11 years,’ types AVUnit, mockingly. AVUnit then proceeds to have fun with the fact I slagged off one of Price’s plays once (‘Timmy has a thing for bad reviews’). Then Price leaves, and suddenly I’m in a chatroom on my own wondering what just happened. I’m not sure ‘Teh Internet…’ is going to tell me, but I’m looking forward to it anyway.
'Teh Internet is Serious Business' is at the Royal Court, Sep 17-Oct 25.