We Are Anonymous, despite the breadth of the title, is first and foremost Parmy Olson’s breathless account of the rapid rise and fall of LulzSec, a small and nebulous group of online rabblerousers who went from obscurity to arrest in six months.
Olson’s best work is in setting out a coherent narrative for the rise of online activism through 4chan, established in 2003 by the then 15-year-old Christopher Poole and notorious for its unhinged and often visually traumatising /b/ board.
In the 10 years since, /b/ has become instrumental in both setting the parameters for Internet culture and fostering small groups of people banding together for co-ordinated denial of service attacks against the online assets of various organisations that have earned their ire.
Quinn Norton of Wired has highlighted instances where Olson’s understanding of software has fallen short of the processes she claims to describe.
Elsewhere, questions have been raised about the veracity of Olson’s sources, mostly based around a core group of hackers from the UK and US who freely admit lying to the media to inflate perceptions of their own strength.
The book itself stands well as an insight into the mindset of Olson’s subjects, at turns callous and nihilistic, at others enthusiastically given to moral crusades.
There are plenty of broader questions omitted in We Are Anonymous: how online protest has burgeoned at a time when the ability to protest in the physical realm has been curtailed, and whether after the first tentative steps into online protest there is still any possibility of making an effective, enduring moral action through this avenue.
Olson redeems herself by giving unprecedented clarity to a community that continues to defy public understanding.