Yesterday, the Observer broke news of a book proposal being shopped to publishers in New York this week about the inner-workings and detailing first-hand experience with Anonymous. The gossipy backlash, of course, is emerging. And the book hasn’t even sold yet!
You may know Anonymous as that nebulous, post-activism collective responsible for some of the most organized, disruptive actions against everyone from Mastercard and Visa to the Church of Scientology in recent years (they’re protesting Wall Street this week, much to the amusement of those who work on Wall Street).
The proposed book is tentatively titled Tales From Inside The Accidental Cyberwar, and is being written by the not-so-anonymous Gregg Housh and Barrett Brown. Both Housh and Brown have served as unofficial, de facto spokespeople for Anonymous at various points, and Housh explained to the Observer that the book’s aim is to make Anonymous accessible to the masses in a way some other writing on the subject hasn’t:
“A lot of books about Anonymous—Cole Stryker’s being one of them—there were some sentences that were correct, but that’s about about it.”
Cole Stryker is the author of Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web. Mr. Stryker’s book received a bevy of press coverage, from the New York Times technology section to the Observer‘s own BetaBeat. Per his blog, he was naturally displeased to hear Mr. Housh’s reaction to his book, noting:
Pfffffft. This is disappointing. Gregg was a helpful source who seemed encouraged by my desire to set the record straight when I interviewed him for Epic Win. I guess you’re forced into slinging mud when you’re playing catch-up on a story that’s already a year old and big advances are on the line.
That being said, Epic Win was never intended to be a dazzling exposé of the group, more of an analytical look at its heritage within the context of web community and an attempt to explain the group’s motivations.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing what Gregg and Barret can add to the discussion. I knew something like this would be announced before the end of the year (I know of at least two other books in the works), and figured it’d make a nice complement to my research. Oh well.
Meanwhile, I’m already knee deep in a follow-up. Guess I can cross these two off my list for interviews.
Elsewhere, an email that came into the BetaBeat inbox from an active Anonymous member took issue with both books. It was fairly informative, beginning as such:
Just had a read-through of this, and I have mixed feelings. Some of relief, some of the familiar frustration at the (mis)representation of Anonymous in the media.
A couple of the negatives first, starting with the most important one: Barrett Brown is an utter, utter penis. The man whored himself out as a media gun-for-hire under the pretence of actually knowing something, but soon realised that a lack of anonymity and knowledge made fulfilling that role incredibly difficult. He’s another charlatan, a hipster jumping on a trendy bandwagon, exactly like Cole Stryker.
Another important negative is that this book seems (although the content isn’t really revealed here) to focus on the activism side of Anon. Again, ignoring the many, many facets and nuances of the group.
“I think if we can get the story told properly,” Housh explained, “Readers might think, ‘Maybe if some dude from Boston can do some stuff, maybe I can do some stuff.’ That’s the idea.”
That line is disappointing. While the likes of Stryker, Brown and others will insist that Anon’s secrecy is similar to that of hoping your favourite band don’t become popular, in my opinion it’s much more than that. It’s the indisputable fact that with increasing numbers, comes increased newfaggotry.
It wasn’t all bad, however.
As for the positives, I would say Housh’s apparent honesty throughout:
The publicist made it emphatically clear that Housh didn’t see himself as a spokesman, which is essential. Housh’s admission that he had no experience in publishing, and so wasn’t sure what he was doing.
In general, I still don’t like this and would suggest that a fair few other people won’t. However, this dislike will be down to one (or all) of three possible reasons – Brown, the hacktivism angle, NO REASON.
Mr. Stryker did not immediately respond to a request for quote; we’ll update if he does. But: there you have it! Even in global protest collectives, there’s enough divisive gossipy cliques to…potentially yield a book? Lest we tempt anyone, self-proclaimed Anonymous-obsessive Adrian Chen of Gawker noted his excitement for a book on the matter as marginal at best:
Anonymous is fascinating on a broad level, but most of the day-to-day details are as sexy as the intricacies of how an office drone manipulates an Excel spreadsheet.
And yet: The Social Network—a movie about Facebook—won an Oscar. So his cynicism may prove unwarranted still!
Also, the book hasn’t even sold, no less been written. So there’s that, too.
UPDATE: Cole Stryker responds, and quite colorfully, at that! Over email, he writes:
First of all, why are we giving any credence to some random anon that emailed in? It could be anyone. It could be a 13-year-old. Besides, anyone who covers this space is going to be called a charlatan. If, I dunno, Malcom Gladwell wrote a book about it, they’d call him a charlatan. Same with moot. They just don’t like it when we talk about their secret club.
I have to say I am selfishly delighted by his assessment of the Housh-Brown project. Those guys are considered to be among the lowest of the low within the ranks of Anon simply by having abandoned anonymity in order to talk to the press. They are considered “namefags,” and are basically untouchable. I’m a namefag too of course, but I never claimed to be providing an insider perspective on Anon’s “cyberwarring.” If these guys don’t sell the idea, someone else will, and in any case I look forward to reading it. I’m sure they will be able to highlight some things that were outside the scope of my project.
Guess I may as well announce it officially. I’m working on a second book about the broader concept of anonymity and how it has affected human social interaction throughout history, but especially on the web. It will be essentially a book-length response to Randi Zuckerberg’s remarks about how she wants to see anonymity abolished on the internet, with a secondary focus on the group Anonymous.
Finally, LOL at Adrian Chen constantly reiterating how above it all he is. Maybe if he’s so disinterested by 4chan he should stop writing about it e’rry damn day? I guess that would mean forfeiting what must be a huge chunk of his pageviews over the last year.
We spoke too soon: Another book on anonymity, and Anonymous—which will probably cover gossip and trashtalk, the likes of which you’ve seen above—is on the way!
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