Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy

 Here is the definitive book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the name Anonymous, by the woman theChronicle of Higher Education calls “the leading interpreter of digital insurgency” and 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 collective just as some of its adherents were turning to political protest and disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that some Anons claimed her as “their scholar.” Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy brims with detail from inside a mysterious subculture, including chats with imprisoned hacker Jeremy Hammond and the hacker who helped put him away, Hector “Sabu” Monsegur. It’s a beautifully written book, with fascinating insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, such as the histories of “trolling” and “the lulz.”

Trained as an anthropologist, Gabriella (Biella) Coleman examines the ethics of online collaboration/institutions as well as the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism. Between 2001-2003 she conducted ethnographic research on computer hackers primarily in San Francisco, the Netherlands, as well as those hackers who work on the largest free software project, Debian. 


I became acquainted with the world of conspiracies and injustices much like any other woman does: my husband. When we met, the man talked nonstop about the government and the illuminati. "What if...", "I bet...", "Orwell was right..." and other like lines peppered our conversations. In an effort to understand part of his world, I picked up this book for early review.

My first impression of Anonymous, following the Steubenville Rape Case, was simple: these are people who are just as angry about the world as I am, but with better computer skills.

After reading this book, I know it's a bit more complicated than that. Reading this, it was almost hard to remember that it was nonfiction. It felt more like something out of Agents of Shield--when the main character manages to finally get into the infamous organization and finds the secrets the media lets out are only the tip of the iceburg. There is so much information, in fact, that I struggle to grasp a general summary to review.

The best I can do: It's not what you think. Whatever you think--it's not. Read this book. Or, wait for the movie (as I'm sure there will be one.) In fact, I'd like to advocate for a movie. It would make millions. Even if you're not all that in to conspiracies or government drama or trolling, you will be captivated by this book. At least, you will be if you're interested in people or the internet. If you're not, then I'm not entirely sure we can be friends because people fascinate me.

The one thing I kept thinking was "Man, Coleman is living the reporter's dream." I don't mean journalism majors who want to be on The View or newsanchors who report on small news. I mean the journalists who go into the field, go undercover, and risk everything to uncover truth about the human race, or parts of it. The ones who bring Ms. Frizzle pride by living out her mantra "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!"

I'm getting off topic. I didn't give myself the normal cooldown time I do when I read a book. My mind is still racing with everything I read. I'm excited about this book and I love that feeling. Buy this book! There's no way you'll regret it. (Dear publishers, make a movie. Please.)

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