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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many…

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (2014)

by Gabriella Coleman

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
A really interesting book full of chat logs that I found really great (as opposed to even entertaining prose, chat logs showed what it was like to be in their IRC). ( )
  Lorem | Aug 1, 2015 |
Don't read this book. It’s awful.
A more apt title should be ‘Anonymous and I’, because the book, particularly the first half of it, does not strike me as being about Anonymous per se, but about Gabriella Coleman’s [Biella] relationship with Anonymous. I bring this up first because I recall reading that anthropologists should remove themselves as much as possible when describing the culture they participated in. And the whole damn thing reeks of ‘look what I did’. Biella puts herself into this books wherever she can, as if trying to prove to some higher powers that she is finally hanging out with the cool kids. And very often she does so rather shamefully. Consider the epigraph she inserts on chapter 6:

: There’s one thing which make me a bit bittersweet actually
: Biella is here for college research
: I can’t help feeling that as soon as she’s written her thesis or whatever the project is, she’ll have no further reason to hang out here :(
: I don’t think she realizes how much she’s contributed to Anonymous
: Even if she doesn’t see herself as part of it necessarily

And just to ring the irony bell while she is at it, this is the same chapter that later goes on to talk about ‘namefagging’. One wonders if Anonymous appreciate this level of back-patting for every anthropologists who waltzes through the door. But what’s worse is that this quote proves absolutely nothing. If you think this is meant to establish something about the character of anonymous, you would wrong. This quote comes on the 177th page of the hardback, and it has already been well-established that at this point Biella is entrenched with the Anons. Of course they are going to say something nice about you. This quote is little more than a verbose form of the tautology ‘Friends are friendly to friends’. Really? You don’t say.
There is another choice example of self-aggrandizement. A little later, Biella even manages to plug an older book:
“I had recently published my book on free software “hackers,” Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, and it seemed that these InfoSec word warriors thought I had a narrow understanding of the term, one that omitted their world. But, my understanding of the term is much more nuanced than they realized. My definition includes free software programmers, people who make things, and also people who compromise systems – but that doesn’t mean they have to all be talked about at the same time. My first book was narrowly focused.”
Are you kidding me? First off, I bought a book about Anonymous. I could care less about the semantic arguments you have about your book. Second off, you are wrong in your argument. Words are arbitrary symbols for meaning, and they can mean whatever we want them to mean. But they do not take meaning by the fiat of academics, they take meaning that are mutually agreed on but society as a whole, thought the forces at work in this process are complicated and illusive. You can call a spoon a ‘fork’ if you like. Nothing about the word /spoon/ is more spoon-like than the word /fork/. But when you got a restaurant and insist the server bring you a ‘fork’ so that you can eat your soup, don’t be upset when they bring you an elongated piece of metal that terminates in four prongs. You can call people who make free software ‘hackers’ if you like, but you’re alone in doing so, and you deserve to be called out for your foolishness.
The book seems to want to suggest that it is targeted to a more academic audience, though it strikes me as not knowing how to do so. The book explains the obvious terminology that anyone most lay people would understand, but then drops that horrendous academic jargon that is nothing but ten-dollar idea word filler. On page 19 the book takes a moment to define for the audience what ‘trolling’ is, but later on page 40 it goes right by ‘Deleuzian sensibilities’ as if everyone was stupid enough to have wasted their time reading A thousand Plateaus. Not everyone who picks up a book on Anonymous want to waste their time researching postmodern nonsense.
As a last point, though one I think is very important, I do not think Biella did a lot of research on this book, which further drives home my suspicion that the tome is little more than a memoir dressed up in academic clothing. Certain little details are wrong, and when it comes to books like this which are collection of thousands of little details, you wonder if the whole picture is not corrupted, and not just the individual pixels. The author mentions Slab City, which is in California, not Colorado as the author says. She also mentions how the members of Anonymous used the movie Gayn*ggers from Outer Space as something of an inside joke, naming one of their own associations in a similar fashion. Biella describes the movie as a porno. It isn’t, and I know this because I have seen the movie. It is a parody of a Blaxploitation movie. There is never one pornographic scene in the whole thing. To call it such just demonstrates not only that you didn’t see the movie, but that you didn’t care to do two seconds of research to consult Wikipedia about the nature of the movie. Perhaps she was misinformed by the contacts she made at Anonymous as to the nature of the movie. Well, that would have been an interesting detail to include in your book, and thus she still had no excuse as to not have double checked the information she was getting. I have a very minor journalism job, and I cannot imagine a situation where I would not have researched a bit of information like that. ( )
  M.Campanella | Jul 11, 2015 |
This book shows well what the hacktivist culture is about. It shows events and episodes mainly about the activist/hacker/prank group Anonymous and illustrates both the good and the bad in the hacktivist movement. ( )
  SebastianHagelstein | Apr 7, 2015 |
Gabriella Coleman took on the incredibly daunting task of studying and chronicling the mercurial, elusive hacktivist collective Anonymous and then sharing that research with the general public.

And, astoundingly, Coleman mostly succeeds. She writes very clearly and speaks with authority and thoughtfulness on the many manifestations and iterations of the collective (which is more like the ever-changing blob in a lava lamp in terms of "structure").

Coleman also examines the political and social ramifications of hacktivism as well as the ethical paradoxes and conundrums that inevitably accompany Anonymous as a whole, an indulgence that would bog a less well-written book down. Coleman, however, successfully adds depth to the topic by exploring these questions.

But for all that, the books suffers from a lack of editing.

The last half of the book, which focuses on a dominant Anon's flip (yes, Sabu) into an informant by the FBI is compelling, beautifully written and riveting. However, it feels more like it should have been the beginning of the book, particularly since the first half of the book mentions Sabu's presence at a quasi-underground hacker convention as panel guest. That would have been more compelling had the details of his becoming an informant come first. Without the deeper context, however, Coleman's reference to seeing Sabu seemed like an impenetrable allusion to a half-told story.

Technical explication, I suspect at times deliberately vague, could have been done a bit better, but then that wasn't the point of this book. Still, a simple glossary with Tor, TAILS, server, ISP, etc. better defined would've been useful for those who are less cyber-literate.

Coleman's conclusion, one of the best parts of the book both in terms of content and writing, would have served far better as an introduction than the current one.

There are other little things -- acronyms that aren't explained until their third or fourth mention, pseudonyms revealed after Coleman refers to the person by last name earlier, etc. -- but the information about Anonymous, government surveillance (based on deeply unsettling court documents and credible investigative reporting) and Coleman's own forays into private IRC channels successfully turn these into minor annoyances.

Coleman threads the book together using the academic anthropological idea of the jester, but I think those references could either have been incorporated a bit better or done away with entirely (again, however, I think that has to do with her being an academic writer in her field).

And to be fair, Coleman is an academic who challenged herself to break out of a very formal style of writing to convey information about a fascinating social phenomenon unlike any before it. And she had to do so after three years of following labyrinthine chats, intrigues and who knows what else. She ultimately succeeds in ingratiating herself with several of the "real" Anons (there is not really an Anonymous, real or false, as anyone can don the mask) lives to tell the tale and, indeed, does so well.

I am glad to have read this book and it has served to begin a fascination with cyber-life/crime/activism etc. As previously stated, the last four chapters and conclusion are particularly good reading. ( )
  Shutzie27 | Feb 2, 2015 |
Robin Hood for the Internet age?

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman (Verso, $26.95).

Is Anonymous the Robin Hood of the Internet or a collection of self-centered, juvenile hackers out for “lulz”? In Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Gabriella Coleman offers the possibility that Anonymous is both—and more.

Coleman, an anthropologist who studies hackers and Internet culture, used the immersive approach to follow Anonymous (and its offshoot, LulzSec) for several years. The reality she describes is complex; with a sort of trickster persona at its heart, Anonymous can be extremely justice-oriented (even while making fun of members who are too focused on social justice), but at the same time, there’s an element who remain adolescent trolls, anxious to offend and destroy for fun.

Her insights into Anonymous’ involvement in the Wikileaks movement, Arab Spring, and efforts to bring about justice for victims of sexual assault provide valuable historical documentation, but more than anything, she confirms what many of us suspected: Anonymous is us, in all our human ingloriousness.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | Jan 26, 2015 |
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I dedicate this book to the legions behind Anonymous--
those who donned the mask in the past,
those who still dare to take a stand today, and
those who will surely rise again in the future.
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On July 29, 2007, an entity calling itself Anonymous--unknown, at this time, to all except the most erudite Internet denizens--uploaded a video to YouTube.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous, by the writer the Huffington Post says "knows all of Anonymous' deepest, darkest secrets."Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global phenomenon just as some of its members were turning to political protest and dangerous disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the battles over WikiLeaks, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that the tricky story of her inside-outside status as Anon confidante, interpreter, and erstwhile mouthpiece forms one of the themes of this witty and entirely engrossing book.The narrative brims with details unearthed from within a notoriously mysterious subculture, whose semi-legendary tricksters--such as Topiary, tflow, Anachaos, and Sabu--emerge as complex, diverse, politically and culturally sophisticated people. Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, including imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond and the double agent who helped put him away, Hector Monsegur, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, including the history of "trolling," the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, and the origins and manifold meanings of "the lulz.""--… (more)

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