Thursday, June 14, 2012

Norton v Olson: A review of a review

I like Quinn Norton's (@QuinnNorton) book review of Parmy Olson's (@Parmy) "We are anonymous", so I thought I'd write of a review of that review.

First off, Quinn's post should be treated with a bit of skepticism. I think Parmy's book is better than how Quinn describes it. They are competing journalists covering the same subject, so would naturally disagree on the best approach. Also, I think Quinn herself is not objective enough on the subject of Anonymous.

But Quinn's review is otherwise pretty good, with some keen insights.

What makes the post interesting is how it reveals the truth about how journalists approach a topic. It's like a personal diary or internal monologue of a journalist that was never supposed to be published.

...which in turn produces insight into Anonymous. What has been written about Anonymous has been the result of a process -- a pretty messed up process manipulated by hackers. By understanding how Anonymous screws with media you can get to the truth behind media accounts of Anonymous. Olson's book is full of useful facts, but this review of the book may be more useful for "understanding".

For example, consider Quinn's description "It’s impossible [for journalists] to not be part of the thing [Anonymous], when the thing uses the media to talk to itself". This is one of many quotes in Quinn's post that you should stop and think about. I think sometimes her prose gets a bit flowery, but at the same time, these things are essential points.

It's also a useful insight into other reporting, such as the way John Markoff reported on hackers like Kevin Mitnick during the 1990s. Markoff let the hackers manipulate him into producing an exaggerated bombastic story, making both Markoff and his subject famous. It also led to Mitnick's self-destruction: after trying his best to convince Markoff he was the world's most dangerous hacker, Mitnick then was pursued and prosecuted by the FBI who believed it to be true.

So as a meta-piece of hacker journalism, I think Quinn's post is worth reading.

As for the subject of the review, Parmy Olson's book, I'm only a third of the way through it. I agree with Quinn's description that it focuses too much on LulzSec, but at the same time, it does have a lot of coverage of Anonymous. It's not how I would describe things, but I wouldn't say it's "wrong", either. What matters is that it's full of facts. Sure, these fact are for the general public and not necessarily as detailed/technical as I would want, but they do answer a lot of questions I've had about how Anonymous and LulzSec actually accomplished their antics. As I expected, their hacks were always lame (they aren't great hackers), but it's still interesting knowing how things happened. Whether or not you like how Parmy approached the subject, it's the most "canonical" listing of the facts surrounding LulzSec/Anonymous that you can find.

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