Olson's book received phenomenal reviews from the varied likes of the New York Times and the Onion AV Club. Dense as it is, beyond the book's code and jargon is a human story of the crew that trolled the likes of Sony and the FBI: Hector "Sabu" Monsegur, the 29-year-old Puerto Rican hacker from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who flipped for the feds; Ryan Mark Ackroyd of England, whose longtime avatar, "Kayla," was a teenage girl; Jake "Topiary" Davis, Olson's main source, from the remote Shetland Islands in the United Kingdom.
While Olson chose to narrate through a few bright vessels, she also stresses that token plot lines don't always reflect the big picture. McGill University professor and Anon anthropologist Biella Coleman agrees, adding that one common cop-out when it comes to covering Anonymous is assuming that the group is too ambiguous to process. "It is a pain," says Coleman, "and one can't follow all networks and nodes, but . . . there are stable networks and nodes, and not some amorphous Internet goo that is impossible to find, much less study."
NATURALIZE. There are cultural if not journalistic standards to ignore when covering Anonymous — for starters, you should forget about striving for objectivity, and also desensitize yourself to ass-rape jokes. For Olson to adjust, she spent countless hours hanging out in chat rooms and emailing with individuals. To an even nerdier degree, this also was the tactic used by author Cole Stryker, whose Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4Chan's Army Conquered the Web predates We Are Anonymous by 10 months. An independent release, Epic Win garnered less critical acclaim than Olson's book, but is of great esoteric value, as Stryker has an intimate awareness of the backchannels that power Anonymous.
The degree to which one becomes immersed in the story may vary. For Barrett Brown, the line between journalism and activism was erased years ago. A former contributor to Vanity Fair and occasional Guardian columnist, Brown has also assisted in numerous Anonymous raids. Because of that, he's provided some of the most introspective coverage of the group, even if he has since disowned them, and even he if claims to just be "some jackass who has helped a lot of journalists with the messages that [Anons] want to get out." "Some things are very unconventional," says Brown, who is currently co-authoring a book on Anonymous with Gregg Housh. "So I'm happy with the situation I'm in."
OVERTHINK. It took overreacting to some false alarms, but in time Olson learned to not overestimate the threats and promises that permeate Anonymous IRCs. In a section of We Are Anonymous about a less-than-triumphant LulzSec attack on Bank of America, she notes that the effort — though touted for days beforehand — was ultimately deemed a failure by outlets ranging from Slate to USA Today. "This was perhaps the moment when the media learned a disappointing lesson about Anonymous," writes Olson. "The collective had done damage, to be sure, but it was just as good at creating hype about secrets it had found as it was at finding anything secret at all."