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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

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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.”

453 pages, Hardcover

First published October 7, 2014

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About the author

Gabriella Coleman

6 books93 followers
Gabriella (Biella) Coleman holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she researches, writes, and teaches on computer hackers and digital activism. Her first book on Free Software, “Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking” has been published with Princeton University Press. It is available for purchase and you can download a copy and learn more about the book here.

Her latest book is, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, published by Verso .

She has given numerous talks on hackers, digital activism,open source production and intellectual property law. Her publications are available here and a partial list of talks, podcasts, interviews and other media appearances are available here. A complete list of talks and publications are available on her CV.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 228 reviews
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,563 reviews5,863 followers
November 17, 2014
The blurb for this book says it's beautifully written. Yep..I'm calling bullshit.

I have been fascinated by the culture that is Anonymous for some time now. I was so excited to get this book. Then I started reading it. I have gone to sleep twice while reading it.
That's enough. I give up.

Anonymous. You rule. This book does not.

I received an ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,038 followers
September 6, 2014
As someone with a deep fondness for hackers and activists, and being a person follows several versions of Anonymous in Twitter because I feel it is more informative than the regular news, I jumped on the chance to read this book.

Here is a blurb from the publisher summary:
"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."

It is important to note that the author is an anthropologist. This indicates a very specific type of training, both in research and writing. She tries very hard to write the book for a popular audience, and succeeds most of the time. What doesn't change is the importance she places on understanding a culture from the inside, to become as much of an "insider" as possible. This is what makes this book different from other books or news reports about Anonymous, in my opinion. While she could only present the story she had access to (and with Anonymous, this is rarely everything!), she does a much better job at capturing the breadth that is Anonymous, from lulz to activism, than most people have.

She started hanging out in IRC around the time that Anonymous focused their attention on the Church of Scientology, and kept up with them through Tunisia, WikiLeaks, Egypt, Occupy Wallstreet, and a bunch of arrests and offshoots from Anonymous. There is a lot of information in this book, and part of me wishes she hadn't tried to do quite so much, but I would have had a hard time knowing what could/should be kept out.

Anonymous, in whatever form, and groups like it, may be the only people left really looking to protect privacy of individuals. I have appreciated their pooled strength in fighting censorship and inequality, but this book taught me a lot more about the lighter side of anyone who calls themselves Anonymous. I grow more and more concerned about the unbalanced fight the FBI and other United States government agencies are waging against hackers.

*waves to the NSA*
Profile Image for Erhardt Graeff.
121 reviews13 followers
May 2, 2015
May all academics aspire to write such a book as Biella has here. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is a remarkably accessible work of ethnography on a technically and ethically seeming inaccessible community and subject matter: Anonymous and its politics. Biella's account is absolutely gripping—I struggled to put this book down. Moreover, I was enchanted (as intentioned) by the story she weaves using the backdrop of humanity's mythological reflexions—the parallel and polarizing Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies of Anonymous as objective, transparent truth advocates as well as hackers for lulzy pleasure, embodying the trickster spirits of gods like Loki or Enki. Biella successfully justifies her role as ethnographer-enchantress to pull us from our cynical doubts about these so-called criminals into the heady excitement of Anonymous's world, where we might better appreciate the reasons why they did what they did and the profoundly unique mark on recent history they have made.

Perhaps, I am biased as a fan and student of creative forms of technology-augmented political action and a friend of Biella. Perhaps, this explains why I found the Acknowledgments and Note on Sources sections as absorbing as the main text. But I think it's more than my personal feelings and connections. I think it's also the effect of an exceptional piece of scholarship and storytelling.

Biella packs more than five years of participant observation, interviews, and study into a tight argument for why we cannot dismiss Anonymous as mere criminals. We get firsthand accounts of the political rationales of key Anons and watch their savvy use of media and mobilization tactics activate and embolden geeks into activists, and capture the attention and imagination of the world. Biella provides evidence of the positive impact their hacking of computer systems and the media cycle has had supporting ex-Scientology victims, Arab Spring protesters, and Occupy Wall Street activists. Furthermore, she illustrates how they have helped establish an important contemporary tradition of whistleblowing around civil rights violations and corruption in public and private sectors cresting with the Manning and ongoing Snowden leaks.

Biella also reminds us that neither are their justifications clean nor their actions obviously positive in outcome, even to her. When Anonymous chose to shine its light on certain rape cases in the US and Canada, they likely revictimized the victims in the process of pushing for justice to proceed. And the infighting of Anonymous among itself or with the historical hacker movements they nod to like anti-sec blur things further. Anonymous is far from monolithic or in consensus, and this has meant some of their operations are contradictory in their goals and ethics. Still, we find much to admire in the decentralized, anti-fame-seeking nature that persists and accomplishes much in spite of itself. Anonymous is a new kind of movement that defies simple categories.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy will change your mind about Anonymous, the utility of hacktivism and its ethical and moral foundations, and hopefully the unfairness in how it's been criminalized. Pick it up now.
Profile Image for Mat.
82 reviews30 followers
March 15, 2015
This book tells how hacker collective Anonymous turned from arseholes to activists. It could have done with a good edit. There are plenty of mundane chat logs that could have been halved and there is a typo on almost every page, which is often confusing. When the author spells people's names three different ways readers may be left wondering whether any of the book is accurate. At one point she refers to another book she had to finish as if it was a chore, which may also make readers wonder if she would say the same of writing this book, considering the apparent lack of care that has gone into it. The author makes much of her anthropological qualifications in analyzing Anonymous. Her occasional insights from this angle are the book's highlights, but they are too few and far between. Nevertheless, Julian Assange has called it the best book written on Anonymous - and it is certainly more in depth than the only other one I've read - by Ars Technica.
Profile Image for Amanda.
270 reviews242 followers
August 5, 2015
One of my favorite anthropological books of all time. Coleman's analysis of Anonymous and its growth over the past seven years is both informative and entertaining. I couldn't put Hacker Hoaxer down!
Profile Image for Jo.
456 reviews2 followers
November 7, 2015
This book was so frustrating because at its center is a really interesting story about Anonymous. The sections that laid out the history of the movement, and just spoke to the development and how it worked, were quite good, but they was surrounded by a lot of junk.

Coleman's anthropological frame does not fit neatly over this material, her long digressions on Loki, Nietzsche, gods of Chaos, the crossroads, Dionysus and Apollo, added nothing to the story. Here is a sample of some of the framing she uses:
"It is rare for something actually resembling the trickster myth to come into being in the midst of our contemporary reality, much less with such panache and public presence. These hackers, in their sacrifice (and the sacrifice of others) serve to remind many of the necessity, pleasure and danger of subversion."
This is both vague and hyperbolic, and the inclusion of the trickster myth adds nothing to the narrative she is building.

Her own personal experiences could have been interesting if better handled, how she got access to Anonymous etc. but as it was distracted from the main narrative. She was too eager to explain how she was also fooled by Sabu, who was acting as an FBI informant for much of the story. Here is an example of her inserting herself reacting to some shocking news: "I thought to myself, holy sweet birth of the baby Jesus, this is really happening!"

By her own admission Coleman needed to publish another book for academic reasons, and the result is poorly thrown together, wildly divergent in tone, not well edited for content, and does a poor job of sharing the wealth of knowledge she has with an audience.
Profile Image for Yzabel Ginsberg.
Author 3 books102 followers
November 18, 2014
(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for a honest review.)

An interesting read, but one that I found rather hard to read all at once—probably because it felt pretty dense and dry, with a lot of information that seemed to meander at times. I guess this was kind of unavoidable, because there is just so much to learn, to research, to take into account when studying such a broad subject, involving so many people, whose approaches and means of actions are as different as each individual in the lot. Nevertheless, I only managed to read it little bits by little bits.

The book allows for a better understanding of some of the best known cases in which Anonymous (as various groups) was involved, like Chanology and WikiLeaks, among others. This is a double-edged sword, though, in that it is useful if you know at least little... but if you know nothing at all, it's going to be very confusing.

On the other hand, the author appeared as genuinely fascinated by her research. She made a point of trying to get in (well, as "in" as possible—clearly she couldn't "get" everything, especially not what predated the 2006-2007 years) to get a better understanding of her topic, and to cast a more critical eye on a lot of tricky aspects surrounding Anonymous as a whole: people who got access to sensitive data and exposed it, people who dabbled on the fringes, people who supported the actions labelled as "Anonymous", etc. I was expecting more bias, but she also took care of mentioning some of the (official, governmental) moves made against certain participants in the movement, without necessarily endorsing them as "the thing to do against the Bad Hackers (because that's what I'm supposed to say to be on the right side of the law)". Granted, she didn't avoid all the pitfalls; however, her research in general could have been much more biased, and fortunately wasn't.
Profile Image for Barry.
600 reviews
November 16, 2014
I wish I could give this a 5. It has the rigour of an academic text, but is reasonably accessible. Unfortunately a crude attempt to provide for that accessibility was the hackneyed post-Neuromancer injection of pre-Christian gods and folklore as analogies. Loki. Ugh.

It's disappointing that, where it's evidenced, Coleman's seeming technical savvy is provided, according to the acknowledgements, by her husband, who runs an ISP. Perhaps he didn't spot when she mixed up 'afk' and 'irl', nor her confusion over mail server vulnerabilities versus SQL injection exploits. One can hardly blame her for the latter, being an anthropologist, but the former puts into question just how many tens of hours she really spent actively engaging the horde on IRC.

Another flaw was that, having castigated other researchers and journalists for misunderstanding Anonymous by trying to locate and profile 'spokespeople' and leaders and skewing the story, she then fell into the same trap more than once. Of course she was generally more even-handed, and really did seem to try to avoid this, but the trap is there and it caught another victim.

What I really hoped, at least, was that once and for all there would be provided - with or without Loki - a thorough origin story for Anonymous. While some readers will be glad to see the EFG-related origin of the mask (almost) recounted, meanwhile she doesn't quite tie together the threads of SomethingAwful/goons/namefags/Anonymous - to her credit they're all mentioned but she just came in too late (transitioning from general Internet versus Scientology study). Someday someone who was actually there (from the start) will write this.
Profile Image for Linda Quick.
1,201 reviews18 followers
August 7, 2014
This is a meticulously researched and documented book about the group Anonymous, including several notorious hackers. The author in an anthropologist and wrote the book in a style (I can only assume) that would be what fellow anthropologists would expect to read. It is very dry and detailed.

When I got this book, I was excited to read about it and learn about Anonymous from a legitimate source. Unfortunately, because it was so dry and detailed, I found myself having difficulty finishing it - I found myself skimming entire chapters and skipping around the book. If you are looking for an exhaustive reference on the topic, this might be an excellent choice. If you are simply interested in the topic, this might not be for you.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing a complementary ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Evan Snyder.
197 reviews16 followers
May 2, 2016
I heard Gabriella Coleman's keynote about Anonymous at PyCon 2015, which was one of my favorite sessions of the conference. I picked up her book to learn more.

In general, she presents a really interesting, well-researched profile of Anonymous, starting as the lulz-infused spawn of 4chan and eventually fashioning themselves a self-appointed squad of cyber vigilante justice. The social justice penchant emerges over several years and a few charismatic individuals actually hold much sway in this supposedly "leaderless" movement.

There are some contradictions about Anonymous as an organization that just don't sit quite right with me.
* Many people in Anonymous are surprisingly blase about security. In many DDOS efforts, individuals downloaded software like LOIC, took random assurance from the internet that it was entirely "safe" and their identity couldn't be uncovered (via IP address). I was distressed by the lack of personal responsibility and perceived misconduct against them by the Anonymous operation itself and/or law enforcement. Some causes are important, and some might merit going outside the laws; however, you should understand and be willing to accept the consequences.
* Although the group often works against "the Man," they took they Guy Fawkes mask from the blockbuster film "V for Vendetta." Several of their hacks were against large studios, despite their symbolism having popularity thanks to such studios. Lack of self awareness here, in their core symbolism, speaks poorly for their ability to be aware about much else.
* What makes you Anonymous anyway? During #antisec, one user Lamaline_5mg hops on Anonymous IRC, offers dox information from a hack, crafts media messaging around it...then claims "this is not Anonymous." Sounds to me like you are declaring yourself with Anonymous by those actions. I dislike that such equivocation is permissible.

Perhaps I am holding them to too high of a standard. But they are certainly taking on the Hacktivist mantle and so I will judge them accordingly. Even though some of these items originated from earlier Anonymous, the causal culture has remained alongside the new, loftier goals.

Coleman proved to be more of an Anonymous sympathizer than I expected. While I was not surprised for her to think some of their causes are justified, she appeared rather forgiving of their illegal enterprises, despite taking great measures to ensure to not turn herself into an accessory or would-be informant. I do not suggest that she would go so far as to condone these measures, just as she came to know the organization more deeply, the tone seemed to shift a bit from very objective to more supportive. At that inflection point, the reading started to drag a bit for me as Coleman became attached to individuals and covered more detailed anecdotes about their interactions than interested me.
Profile Image for Dmytro Shteflyuk.
53 reviews16 followers
July 16, 2017
First of all, my rating of 4 stars means 3.5. I've got what I came here for – the history, culture, motivations behind Anonymous. If you, like me, crossed paths with (been DDoSed or hacked, read an article or a public statement), but never grasped what lies behind it, this book is a great source of understanding.

The bad part is the style of the book. It is not a book about Anonymous and their culture, instead, it is a book about the journey of the author into the world of notorious hackers and prankers, mixed with her feelings, fears, and self-promotion. There are philosophical and science-paper-like bits, over-complicated and to my view meaningless, but you get used to this narrative (or can skip these chunks completely).

Overall a good read.
Profile Image for Scott von Berg.
35 reviews17 followers
September 11, 2015
Adequate. Meanders a lot, and isn't what I'd call succinct. I don't think I'd recommend it to others, where a Wikipedia article would likely suffice for facts, and the between the lines elements could be happily left behind.

Save yourself some time - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymo...

I'd love to see a better-written book about the group.
Profile Image for David Dinaburg.
278 reviews40 followers
May 4, 2015
Federal testing requirements are being challenged throughout New York State in what has been blandly named the opt-out movement. “Opt-out” has the slick polish of an ungraspable term, one with all the language-bending signifiers unsubtly employed by the “pro-life” movement; it vilifies the other side simply for existing. I am not a middle schooler—nor do I have one—but the test idyll revolves around results as metric, not label. Tests are practice for the real world, a consequence-free way of discovering your weaknesses and talents. That test results have a tendency to elide into pejorative shorthand labels for students is a not a per se fault with the tests, but the way they are applied; as a characteristic, a “C” students become a noun and is summarily dismissed.

While I agree the whole system needs a change—because students, much like anything else, cannot be reduced to numbers—not having tests at all seems counterproductive. The reduction of people into data is the Zeitgeist; we require information to feed the algorithms that run the modern information economy, and machines can only process inputs of ones and zeroes. But a useful testing environment would make a perfect score unobtainable; there is room for growth in all things, including—especially—in knowledge. Removing the gleaming pedestal that is pointless perfection would do wonders for the self-esteem-focused learning that is currently in place; if you’re the type of person that ties achievement to identity, than any result that falls short of perfection is world-shattering. You as a person become worth less than you were before receiving tarnishing results. So it is better to avoid—not to try—something at which you don’t know you will succeed. If you’re never striving—and never improving—eventually natural talent will fizzle. What modern testing is teaching is not to try if you cannot be perfect; opt-out if you think you won’t like the results.

A cult of perfectionism does not teach owning one's own mistakes. Allowing space for ignorance is an even more difficult skill; it strips away any excuse that you are not at fault for your own actions. Even admitting that you didn’t know something—a cool bar, a new band, a type of food—can be a lesson in ego. DUMBO, besides being an adorable baby elephant, is an acronym for a New York City neighborhood— “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” It is the little triangle between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, on the Brooklyn side. For whatever reason, I have always thought it was the portion of Chinatown that is situated literally beneath the Manhattan Bridge itself, on the Manhattan side. Simply, factually, wrong.

While I was reading Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous I had to remind myself of the fact that, though we all strive for perfection, ain’t none of us gonna make it there:
He was one of the first individuals from AnonOps I met “afk” (“away from the keyboards,” in IRC parlance), a pleasure I have since enjoyed on multiple occasions.
As far as I know, AFK means “away from keyboard,” as in, “Hey, I’m afk getting a sandwich.” In this aforementioned instance, I would have chosen “IRL” (“in real life”). This little blip caused me to look askance at the whole book; I viewed the misstep as a signifier of the author’s non-native status in the world of online nerdery. Which, I have to say, is seriously fucked up of me.

To begin with, I could very easily be incorrect. “AFK” means my version of “afk” in Everquest or AIM. It might not mean that in IRC chat, which I admittedly don’t use. Or on 4chan, where I’ve never been. Just because I think “AFK” implies temporary absence (“afk, using the toilet”) rather than physical locationality (“I like paper books, so I do most of my reading afk.”) doesn’t make it so. Additionally, even if I am technically correct, it doesn’t negate the intense and amazing amount of work the author put into this tome.

And while the book itself lacks the erudition of The Coming Swarm—which felt like a technical book for a technical audience—it hits a lot of the a lot of the same notes:
Anonymous remained hyperactively involved with the Steubenville assault on Twitter, until two teenagers were found guilty of rape in May 2013. One defendant received the minimum sentence: one year in a juvenile correctional facility. The other was sentenced to two years. In November 2013, four Steubenville residents, including the school superintendent, were subsequently charged for covering up evidence of another, earlier rape case, according to the New York Times. The FBI raided Lostutter in June 2013, and he is facing indictment under the CFAA; Noah McHugh was allegedly arrested earlier in February. If convicted, they face much longer prison sentences than the rapists.
The same notes that remain rather sickening. What differentiates Hacker Hoaxer is the humanization element—Swarm presents DDoS actions and internet protesters as, well, a swarm; Hacker Hoaxer dissects the mass movement, nearly de-anonymizing Anonymous. The two books are the inverse of the same issue; one takes individuals and presents them as a political movement while the other takes a movement and breaks it down into individuals.

When Hacker Hoaxer begins its technical chatter, I remember balking: if the author doesn’t know what “AFK” means, why should I trust her breakdown of a botnet?
In the botnet world there is an ongoing struggle over who has the most bots, the most bandwidth, and the best-infected machines (university, corporate, and government computers tend to be on better bandwidth).

This competition is so fierce that botnet herders will often try to take over other botnets. On the other side of the fence, law enforcement agencies and individual organizations that are fighting spam also struggle to take over botnets in order to neutralize them. This is not a trivial thing to do. One has to first identify the C&C. If you can figure out where the bots get their commands from, you can join the IRC channel, masquerading as a compromised machine, and wait to receive a command from the botnet herder. If the botnet herder sends an authentication alongside the command, you may have the password necessary to issues commands to the entire botnet yourself.
This is, again, simply poor reasoning on my end. My pushback was unfair, and I injured only myself by not accepting the knowledge as proffered. I should not extrapolate; being skeptical or using critical thinking doesn’t mean being dismissive of unrelated information because of a rather pedantic usage differentiation. I have, on more than one occasion, told both clients and friends that the large digital clock on the south end of Union Square in New York is a string of random integers—an art installation representing the random fiat nature of how we label and break down time in the modern era. And while I like my interpretation of the Metronome—as that clock is named—it is, in fact, a clock and there is nothing arbitrary about the digits. C’est la vie.

The horror of the form that the government monopoly on force is taking in cyberspace is getting more and more mainstream coverage and attention:
Thanks to Edward Snowden’s NSA mega-leaks in 2013, we know that in the summer of 2011, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) targetted AnonOps’ communications infrastructure. A GCHQ special unit called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG)—which also engages in COINTELPRO-type meddling—launched DDoS attacks against Anonymous, calling it them [sic] “OpWealth” and “Rolling Thunder.”

This was the first known instance of a Western government secretly using DDoS—criminalized in the UK and the US—as a tactic against its own citizens. GCHQ claimed that its operation was a success; the leaked slides boast that as a result of its DDoS os AnonOps’ IRC, “80% of those messaged where [sic] not in the IRC channels 1 month later.” By this time, UK government had already arrested British participants for the same act. One of those arrested, Chris Weatherhead, aka “Nerdo,” was a central and much beloved AnonOps operator. Eventually, he would receive an eighteen-month sentence for his role in the DDoS campaign “Avenge Assange/Operation Payback.” He was not found guilty of engaging in an actual DDoS itself, but of aiding in the operation by running the IRC server. The British government, on the other hand, has faced no sanction for DDoSing activists. The law, clearly, is not applied equally. As Weatherhead put it on Twitter when he read the news: “My government used a DDoS attack against servers I owned, and then convicted me of conducting DDoS attacks. Seriously, what the fucking fuck?”
Onlookers might, at first blush, call the vigilantism of Anonymous too harsh or unproductive or simply wrong; as a movement they are not choosing to opt-out but instead are facing the mistakes and injustice and unbalanced nature of State authoritarianism:
By telling these characters’ stories, lessons emerge, not through dry edicts but, instead, thought fascinating, often audacious, tales of exploits. Trickster lore may be patently mythic, but it bears remembering that, at one point, it was spun by human hands. My role has been to nudge forward this process of historical and political myth-making—already evident in the routine functioning of an entity constituted by adept artists, contemporary myth-makers, and concocters of illusion.
The Guy Fawkes mask—the mask that can cover the hacker, the hoaxer, the whistleblower, or the spy in equal measure—is the modern equivalent of why Robin Hood and his merry men chose to wear gaudy green. Our modern economy is driven by the buying and selling of information about individual preferences, habits, and tastes; choosing to be anonymous—to don the mask—is the same as cloaking yourself in luxury.
Profile Image for Derick Cursino.
119 reviews4 followers
August 29, 2020
This is not an easy book to read. Coleman’s studies Anonymous’ story in depth, it is almost like you are siting a lecture on the topic. However arid the reading is, the content is worth it.
21 reviews
March 4, 2022
The organization and function of the movement as described in this book is really fascinating. Since the members are, well, anonymous and everyone can proclaim themselves part of the movement, the motivations and methods change in time and even between subgroups. Because it does not have to constrict itself with well-known members and leaders with specific ideologies and goals, it can continuously evolve and reinvent itself (a bit like V at the end of V for Vendetta). I think that this mode of organization (?) is extremely interesting and has great potential to be explored in literature. The existence of potentially infinite secret IRC channels with motivated coordinators/activists/hackers only adds to the mystery.

The anonymity is both the great force of the movement but also its weakness, as we see at the end of the book. I had never thought much about the way government agents infiltrate activist movements and influence their actions and the relationships between the members, and this chapters completely changed my mind. The parts about private security/information firms were also chilling.
The way such a movement could arise from a rather unlikely source and the relationship/conflict between the activist and troll elements is also an interesting subject to explore.

Basically I was very inspired by this book and now my model movement would combine this aspect of anonymity but with a rather increased degree of organization/structure.

4 stars because at times the timeline of events was not straightforward and presented in a confusing way. I really appreciated that the author integrated the movement to give as much as possible an insider perspective. Some people said that there were too many IRC chat excerpts, but personally I found they added flavor to the book.
Profile Image for Melissa Symanczyk.
244 reviews2 followers
July 7, 2021
Trying to pin down Anonymous, a "group" with secrecy as its bedrock, is one hell of a daunting task, so Coleman's focus on its public actions as activists is probably the only sensible approach. She does a good job of explaining the factors that transform a chaotic mass of individual users into surprisingly coherent and effective "operations" against corporations and government agencies, drawing media and public attention to issues of surveillance and privacy. The stories of individual participants is fascinating and gives the reader a glimpse into the kinds of people drawn to Anonymous's social justice message.

The problem is that this is only one of the "faces" of the group, and I found her overwhelmingly positive spin got my back up, especially her positioning of the group as white knights meting out justice to rapists, when so many online spaces perpetuate casual misogyny and rape culture. Although she admits that not all aspects are positive, the book feels really lopsided.

From a purely organizational standpoint, the book would have been served better by moving the notes on sources and most of the conclusion to the start of the book to help put the information (and the author) into better context. I also found the interruptions of her more journalistic narrative style with random bits of academic analysis really jarring. Again, a chapter dedicated to an in-depth anthropological analysis I think would have improved the book's readability.

But I think I finally understand both WikiLeaks/Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden now. :-)
Profile Image for Chad Kohalyk.
283 reviews25 followers
December 23, 2014
This is undoubtedly the most important book about Anonymous to date. It contains much more information on ops I had never heard of, which is expected considering much of the reporting is from the inside. If you want to know more about the Anonymous phenomenon, then read this book.

So why only 3-stars? Execution really. Parmy Olson's book is much more niche, and has some questionable bits. But it is very well written — gripping, even. HHWS book is so uneven, schizophrenic even, bouncing back between the academic (which I appreciated) and the awkwardly jokey. I prefer her first book, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, and I wish she wrote this one much more "straight", instead of trying so hard to be funny.

I would give it 3.5 if Goodreads would let me. Maybe it deserves 4 due to its importance? As you can tell, I am conflicted because I respect her and what she has done. I wish she could have executed on this better.
Profile Image for Christopher.
101 reviews8 followers
December 13, 2014
Like, 3.6 stars. Great at explaining the moving parts of the technology and the evolution of a specific group of people, but I'm not sure the blow by blow infighting is so interesting other than to prove the point that this is a feature of political activism, not a bug. As an anthropologist, Coleman needs to gain their trust and speak the lingo and "get" the worldview. So there is a bit of a "one woman's journey through the darkness" tone but it is rendered a bit annoying when she describes how she ruined her vacation while staying on IRC. Definitely useful starting place to read further. Take it out of the library.
Profile Image for Raquel Pimentel.
27 reviews
October 12, 2016
«As Muitas Faces dos Anonymous», da mesma autora, aparece nas prateleiras em 2016. Gabriella Goleman fala-nos de uma organização cujos protagonistas são muitas vezes pessoas complexas e politicamente sofisticadas. Este livro (As Muitas Faces dos Anonymous), editado pelo Relógio d'Água, examina também os principais episódios da história dos Anonymous, analisa aspetos pouco conhecidos da cultura da Internet e relata o destino (...), muitas vezes complicado, dos elementos mais relevantes do movimento. Saber não ocupa lugar.
Profile Image for Michelle.
67 reviews1 follower
November 30, 2020
DNF at 25% - incredibly dry and technical while also attempting to explain for the masses. I fell asleep while reading.
Profile Image for Kelsey Hanson.
868 reviews32 followers
June 12, 2018
This book was first published in 2014. A mere four years ago. In her book Coleman describes The hacker organization Anonymous as one of "the most politically active, morally fascinating, and salient activist groups today". I'm reading this book in 2018. Whether they've dissolved altogether or simply faded from the public to do more hacker-related work without the spotlight, Anonymous as it described in this book is no more. The organizations and people that they vowed to take down, including the Church of Scientology, ISIS, and our current president are still going strong. Coleman you got it wrong. For better or worse, anonymous proved to be more of a flash in a pan than the major evolution of activism that Coleman tries to portray it to be.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, like I said since this book has published a lot of events have happened to shape my opinions of Anonymous. Hindsight is 20/20 and the world of politics and technology moves fast. However, even if I read this book the year it came out, I would still have some major issues with this book. Most of them revolve around the author, Gabriella "Biella" Coleman. Coleman is an Anonymous fangirl and her lack of objectivity makes it very difficult to get a fully nuanced picture of Anonymous as an organization. Even supporters of Anonymous have to admit that they have a somewhat troubling history, particularly in their early years. Some of the things they have done are morally questionable at best and illegal at worst. If Coleman presented a balanced view of Anonymous, I would have been okay with it, but she constantly justifies ALL of Anonymous's actions. She often does this with academic language and downplaying the Lulz of the organization as relatively inane mischief usually with pointless comparisons to trickster gods of lore. In fact, I think on some level she knows that this is an ineffectual argument because she feels the need to come back and explain why she felt necessary to make those points. The fact that she continually hails Anonymous as leading the conversation on race relations and rape culture while dismissing what many could consider sexist and racist hate speech within the ranks of Anonymous as simply "trolling" weakens her arguments. It seems to be that somewhere during her exploits amongst anonymous she went native. She clearly enjoys the role as Anonymous champion, but she doesn't seem to understand that she is NOT considered a full-fledged member. The fact that she was shocked and betrayed by Sabu working as an informant and revels in the friendships and compliments she received from Anonymous members seems to indicate to me that she got too close to her subject material. Also, her methods lead me to question the validity of her research. The members of Anonymous were aware that she was researching them. Wouldn't this lead to some sort of observer bias? It also makes me wonder if they were only showing her the parts of anonymous that they wanted her to see to serve as an effective mouthpiece for the organization. In addition to all of this, Coleman herself comes across as rather pretentious. Whether she is belittling such pedestrian interests as football or Settlers of Catan, describing the lavish spread of TED talk conferences, name dropping, or hurtling academic or tech language at the reader with minimal explanation, it feels like Coleman is constantly talking down to the reader. It has nothing to do with the topic, but it certainly makes the book drag.

Despite the fact that this book has ridiculously long rambling passages on trickster lore, Nietzsche, and massive tech logs, there are significant topics about Anonymous that are never addressed in the book. The biggest being the nature of vigilante justice and their tendency to victim blame. Is it right for them to hack into a system and violate a company, organization, or person's privacy. Regardless of what someone might have done, everyone has the right to privacy and when you violate these rules you are doing something wrong. Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect a neat answer for this question. But when looking at organization that spends so much time outside the legal realm, this is one of the primary questions you need to explore. It seems like an obvious topic of discussion for a book on Anonymous, but Coleman doesn't really discuss it in depth and because she is so pro-Anonymous in the book the reader isn't given enough info to ponder that on their own and draw their own conclusions. The closest she comes is admitting that there is often debate amongst members of Anonymous about whether an op is "ethical" based on the details of the op. The question of whether any of the ops are ethical because they violate someone's fundamental rights is never addressed in detail. It also makes me question why I should feel bad for the Anonymous members like Sabu who had their rights infringed on them when they were arrested when they have so little regard for the people that they had hacked. Again, I don't expect a simple answer, but some discussion on it would have been helpful.

Another topic that does not get nearly enough attention in this book is the unintended consequences of the ops. Coleman hails their scientology campaign as a success, but neglects to mention that the Church of Scientology was able to use this campaign to their advantage. According to Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear (A book that I had read before reading this one), Scientology was able to use the Anonymous attacks to present themselves as victims of religious persecution. Coleman briefly touches on the rape cases that Anonymous was involved in and at least briefly admits that perhaps making the cases public wasn't necessarily in the best interests of the rape victims (especially once they received more negative attention as a result). Since this book has been published, Anonymous has also released information that proved to be inaccurate, releasing the wrong name of the officer involved in the Ferguson shooting. This falsely accused officer needed to enter witness protection after his name was released because of the threats he received. A man's life was threatened because of their actions. Even in situations when they are correct, the fact that people don't live in a vacuum and that attacking one person can unintentionally harm their innocent family members is never addressed.

Coleman also tends to oversell some of the accomplishments that Anonymous was involved in. The Scientology campaigns might have brought the focus over to Scientology, but like I said earlier they were able to use the campaign to their advantage. Also, in the case of Slickpubes (*throws up in mouth*) you kinda have to wonder what their end game was. Generally, Scientology is more harmful to its members than to the general public. It seems like the average Scientology practitioner is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of the horrible crimes that the upper members inflict. One has to ask, how does committing a lude act (and getting arrested) hurt the church? It seems like you just made it a little tougher for the members of the church. Coleman also mentions the WI Recall Elections of 2012 and how Anonymous "helped" by attacking the Koch brothers' website. I live in Wisconsin. I was heavily involved in the recall effort and (at least in this instance) was politically on the same side as Anonymous. I can honestly say that their efforts largely went unnoticed.

ANOTHER seemingly obvious topic that isn't delved into nearly deep enough is the very nature of Anonymous, no one knows who anyone else is. This is perhaps Anonymous's greatest strength, but it also their biggest weakness. Anyone can do anything under the Anonymous umbrella. There is no leadership, no guiding principles, and no limits. In a way this fosters discussion and free thought, but this also means that there is no accountability or aim. In fact, there is speculation that this could be the reason why one of their most recent ops, Trump op, failed. Because there was dissension amongst the ranks about Donald Trump. When people are not on the same page, it can be incredibly difficult to rally. Also, when anyone from the professional hacker to the high school computer nerd can claim actions on behalf of Anonymous, your success rate is going to take a bit of a hit which can affect how seriously the general public takes your activism. It also makes Anonymous seem like a trend instead of a cause.

This book could have been really fascinating. It could have been a great discussion on politics, justice, activism, technology, democracy, and media. Unfortunately, Coleman doesn't do enough with the topic. It seems like this book solely exists to sing Anonymous's praises. In 2018, even prominent former members of Anonymous like Sabu have dismissed the organization as no longer relevant. This was the most frustrating book I've read this year (so far) and its mainly because the other spent too much time trying to promote Anonymous and not enough time researching it. Despite it all, I remain undecided on hacktivism and Anonymous mainly because I feel like I have not been presented with a clear picture of the organization. Maybe I will find a better source of information, but it's not here.
Profile Image for Huyen.
140 reviews187 followers
February 3, 2022
Review take 1: Well-researched fascinating topic but the writing is barely passable. There are nuggets of interesting insights here and there but the book often dives into excruciating details that don't seem to lead anywhere and could be just summarized instead. The storytelling doesn't capture me and I often skimmed through much of it.
Review take 2: On second reading to take notes, I found myself skimming through most of it thinking to myself "bla bla bla where are you going with this?" and revised my rating down to 2 stars. There are just so many minute, tedious details in this book. The way she divided the chapters is also strange. She would introduce one topic, then jump to another unrelated event/character, then go back to that previous topic in the next chapter. The chapters don't seem to focus on just one thing, but are a jumble of several unrelated things, which is very annoying. The events are not described in chronological order and seem very chaotic and frustrating to follow. The sprinkling of anthropological musings among what largely reads like investigative journalism seems very out of place. The many fascinating questions around the ethics of digital vandalism, how to build trust in an anonymous organisation, the ethics of hacking and meddling in another country's politics, the extent which tech companies should co-operate with government in suppressing dissent, the question of jailbreaking (freeing consumer devices from the proprietor's grip), copyright, doxxing are largely under-explored.
Profile Image for Hannah Nagle.
687 reviews29 followers
April 20, 2018

This was incredibly informative. And was honestly waaay more academic than I anticipated. I don't remember how I heard about this book, but I don't think I knew how academic it was. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for an academic read once in a while (nerd alert), but I'd rather know that going in.

Besides that, this book was fascinating! I obviously know what Anonymous is and found this in-depth look at the community interesting. Coleman describes the power relations within the group, the sense of community, and the justification for doing what they do. And while I don't necessarily agree with some of the operations Anonymous tackles, I really enjoyed reading about the thought and action that goes into it.

Overall it's a good, but heavy, read and I'd recommend it if you're interested in learning more!
Profile Image for Alemanita.
242 reviews45 followers
January 29, 2018
3,5/5. El tema me fascina, aunque al ser una obra más bien antropológica o sociológica, a veces se hace un poco densa. Pero me ha parecido muy interesante.
August 22, 2022
Starts good but then it's becoming a bit cumbersome to read. Interesting topic but execution fails a bit
20 reviews
November 8, 2020
Thought provoking insight into a closed secretive world. Quite academic in tone, I did struggle to complete it, parts of the book felt unnecessarily drawn out.
Profile Image for Brianna Moulton.
72 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2022
Such an interesting book about anonymous! I learned so many new things about the group. Gabriella Coleman is a 10/10 author
Profile Image for Alex.
189 reviews1 follower
April 23, 2015
When I picked this up at the library, I told my wife that it was going to be one of the many books that I check out but never read--I do that sometimes. But when I read the opening pages of Gabriella Coleman's fascinating anthropological survey of the hacker group known as Anonymous, I was hooked. Here are the most interesting things that I now know because of this book:

1. Anonymous is almost universally misunderstood: While it might be a little different now, back when Anonymous was pulling off some of its most famous cyber-ops, journalists and politicians had no idea how to wrap their heads around them. Even today, it would be difficult to pin down an organizational hierarchy among their ranks. They operate with a zillion tiny cells until something big comes their way, and then those tiny cells unite to create some memorable chaos.

2. The Lulz: While Anonymous has been involved in some truly worthy causes, a guiding philosophy behind Anonymous and its spawn is a term that Coleman calls "the lulz." It's an appropriation of LOL, and it basically means "for the hell of it." I thought of it as similar to the Joker's philosophy in The Dark Knight. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

3. The Internet is a freedom of speech battleground: Until I read this book, I hadn't really thought of the Internet as such a tumultuous place in regards to freedom of speech. While the point of the Internet is to give everyone a voice, it was amazing to learn how huge online corporations like Amazon can potentially use their ownership of web servers to shut down a huge chunk of those voices. It made me think more about things like SOPA and digital privacy for sure.

4. I need to learn more about the digital world: It was scary how easily these hackers were able to infiltrate an organization's digital fortress. Even online security firms couldn't keep these guys out. Considering the rate at which our whole lives are being digitally converted, it makes sense to put a bit more effort into figuring out how to be digitally responsible.

1 review
November 23, 2014
A book not to miss. This book written from six years of research into the online group by
Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman gives a fascinating and engaging read into such a diverse and controversial organization. From her personal accounts to past news stories of online hacks of government organizations and interviews with old trollers and hackers the reader is left with mass tales of not only the achievements of this organization. But also offering through a great skill of writing being written in the first person enables Gabriella Coleman to guide us through this complex maze of this online group and succeed in the difficult task of trying to define who they are and what they stand for. With the internet as my addiction, i could not put it down and surprise my self at how the hours flooding by when I was reading this book. it is funny, engaging and will leave you questioning how you feel about them at the end of the book. If you are at all interested in Anonymous, politics or the internet then this deeply thought provoking read is what you better get it for the holiday. Her casual tone is the lure in to the maze... the actions and moral questions of the group will be your drive you through. Be aware of the crudeness and note not to be sitting behind someone with a mouth full of coffee when reading certain more (shall we say) mature parts of the book.
222 reviews
January 7, 2015
Gabriella Coleman knocked it out of the park with this one! Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is a fabulous study of Anonymous and the free flowing mind of this group of people. I have some knowledge of internet culture but am certainly not in deep, and am not a coder. If I had no knowledge of how the intent works, I would have been lost, especially in the first half of the book. Colman does a great job of providing background into the personalities and culture of Anonymous at the time she was researching this book. What made a real impression is how pervasive and intrusive the US government surveillance and monitoring programs are, as well as how destructive and free wheeling individual groups within Anonymous are. If there is a balance no one seems to have found it yet. Coleman’s study is anthropological, and as such she studies the way this internet subculture lives. The first half of the book is quite technical and well researched, if a bit dry. The back half read almost like a thriller.
If you are interested in internet policy, cyber security. hacking - white or black hat, you will certainly enjoy Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy.

An honest review in exchange for ARC via netgalley.com 5/6/15
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