A fresh perspective on the covert, crusading Internet activist group Anonymous.
Coleman (Scientific and Technological Literacy/McGill Univ.; Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, 2012), a cultural anthropologist and Internet authority, spent several increasingly immersive years researching the calculated tactics of the global Anonymous collective. She tracks the hacktivist association’s anarchic history from its nascent disruptive publicity stunts and trolled online raids through the “4chan” public chat boards in 2003, executed in the spirit of “lulz” (public schadenfreude). Though the group’s later, more pointed, collaborative machinations would attract the aggressive attention of the FBI, writes Coleman, their activities were still partly implemented in the same roguish, mischievous spirit. Though her treatment is permeated with buzzwords, initialisms and computer jargon, even Internet neophytes will find Coleman’s text to be a consistently fascinating ethnography, as she folds the politics of hacking and website breaching techniques into intriguing stories from the stealth campaigns of microcosmic networks like AnonOps and LulzSec (“a crew of renegade hackers who broke away from Anonymous and double as traveling minstrels”), among others. The author examines the ways the Anonymous collective seeks justice (or, at the very least, a mean-spirited chuckle) through the seizure and release of digitized, classified information or by challenging corporate conglomerates, as demonstrated by the Wikileaks–Chelsea Manning scandal and an early, synchronized attack on Scientology, both of which Coleman generously references. The author is particularly enthusiastic about Anonymous’ interior motivations and provides pages of interviews with infamous, incendiary trollers, snitches and hackers, verbatim bickering chat-room dialogue, and leaked documents. For such a frenzied collective defying easy categorization, Coleman’s diligent and often sensationalistic spadework does great justice in representing the plight of these “misfits of activism” and their vigilante mischief.
An intensive, potent profile of contemporary digital activism at its most unsettling—and most effective.