Though a lot of cross-continental activism gets lost in translation, it's led some more adventurous reporters across linguistic barriers. "So little is being done on the non-English Anonymous world," says Coleman. "There are some reporters doing work — in Belgium and Mexico, for example — but they're doing it in their native languages, and it's not affecting North American and Western European journalistic and academic thinking." Adding context to that, Norton explains: "In America, when you ask about how many people are in Anonymous, people say 50,000 to 100,000. When you ask people in France, that number gets closer to a million."

SUBSTANTIATE. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that covering Anonymous is like covering anything else; after all, every politician and public-relations sleaze out there has some kind of distortion for sale. Under these extraordinary circumstances, though, ordinary skepticism won't cut it alone — even when meeting Anons in person. "There's an important difference," according to Norton, between your average truth-stretcher and the typical member of Anonymous. "In traditional journalism," she says, "you're not covering a pack of people who literally lie as an art form. [Politicians] lie to achieve some sort of aim. Anons lie to you because it's Tuesday."

Though not always easy to arrange, the most reliable way to gauge what's real and what's fake with Anons is to interview sources offline. Whether at conventions like DEFCON or in clandestine coffee shop meetings, it's easier to vet a source in person than by email. "I moved to meeting them as much as I could," says Coleman. "It was important for various reasons, one of which is that a special thing about Anonymous is how people are really pseudo-anonymous, and actually reveal more or less of themselves over time . . . . Someone can say that they're this, this, and this, but until you meet them in person, there's no way to confirm it."

Chris Faraone can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @fara1. 

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