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".
On July 29, 2007, an entity calling itself Anonymous— unknown, at the time, to all except the most erudite Internet denizens—uploaded a video to YouTube. A metallic, digital tone thrums as a headless suited man appears over a blank background. A male voice begins to speak through the interference: “Dear Fox News,” it intones.1 The news organization had recently devoted a segment entirely to a group they described as “the Internet Hate Machine”— a title the collective would subsequently adopt as a badge of honor.
But for a collective that revels in trickery and guile, to simply laugh and dismiss such an exposé would be to miss a great opportunity. And so, the disturbingly ponderous, down-pitched voice of Anonymous continues: “The name and nature of Anonymous has been ravaged, as if it were a whore in a back alley, and then placed on display for the public eye to behold. Allow me to say quite simply: you completely missed the point of who and what we are … We are everyone and we are no one … We are the face of chaos and the harbingers of judgment. We laugh at the face of tragedy. We mock those in pain. We ruin the lives of others simply because we can … A man takes out his aggression on a cat, we laugh. Hundreds die in a plane crash, we laugh. We are the embodiment of humanity with no remorse, no caring, no love, and no sense of morality.”
The video ends, “YOU … HAVE NOW GOT … OUR ATTENTION.”
They certainly got mine—soon after the video’s publication, I became entangled in a multi-year research project on the collective that I have only now just twisted my way out of (this book monumentalizes that struggle). The video was meant to satirize Fox News’s hyperbolic characterization of Anonymous as the ultimate purveyors of Internet pranking and trolling, “hackers on steroids,” as Fox had called them. And yet, the creepy sentiments and chilling style captured the trolls’ terrifying side perfectly; instead of overturning Fox News’s ridiculously one-dimensional portrayal, the video seemingly confirmed it to the utmost—though only, of course, to those not in on the joke.
This double meaning captures the dark humor of Anonymous (the lulz, they call it) in a nutshell. The lulz a deviant style of humor and a quasi-mystical state of being—has, as we will see, evolved with Anonymous from the beginning. And there was a time when spreading lulzy mayhem was all Anonymous seemed interested in. But not long after this parodic and bombastic video, Anons could be found at the heart of hundreds of political “ops”—becoming integral, even, to some of the most compelling political struggles of our age. In solidarity with Tunisian protesters, Anonymous hacked the Tunisian government’s websites in January 2011; months later, Spain’s indignados beamed the collective’s signature Guy Fawkes mask onto a building in the Puerta del Sol; and Anons disseminated some of the first calls to occupy Wall Street.