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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Journalism and music investigate Anonymous

Published: November 15, 2013
Section: News, Top Stories

One of the fieriest topics in recent news cycles has been the activity of the online hacker/activist/internet troll group Anonymous. From their defacing of the CIA website to public demonstrations against Scientology, the mysterious and decentralized group has brought much discussion to the modern debate on internet privacy and other issues. One of the most famous Anonymous groups, the hacks and data thefts committed by hacker collective LulzSec in 2011, was detailed in Forbes journalist Parmy Olson’s 2012 book “We Are Anonymous.” The book details the rise and fall of LulzSec during the year of 2011 as seen by Olson through her correspondence with the group, including interviews with leaders Sabu and Topiary, as well as an analysis of the hacker culture that gave birth to LulzSec and Anonymous.

On Thursday the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism hosted Olson for a discussion on the story of her investigation into Anonymous and its challenges. Also part of the program was a presentation by Brandeis Music Phd and composer Peter Van Zandt Lane, who composed a ballet based on scenes from the book called HackPolitik, which recently had its premiere at Boston University. The audience packed into Heller’s Zinner Forum and included students, guests and faculty. Lane began his talk after a quick organization by Schuster Institute founder Florence Graves, and discussed the challenges in composing music for dance around a theme that does not exist physically.

“I wanted to allow dancers, through music, to explore ideas not associated with human movement,” said Lane, who also invited his choreographer to the podium during the question and answer section at the end. Lane, who specializes in experimenting with both electronic and acoustic instruments, also stated that the influence of Anonymous’ anarchistic roots helped him compose the music. Lane finished his presentation with a video clip of HackPolitik, which featured jarring choreography and very experimental music.

In her presentation, Parmy Olson described her interesting connection with LulzSec and hacker culture. She first discussed how she learned by chance about the group’s origins on the forums of 4Chan, and how she initially only became interested in troll culture on the site. She came in email contact with hackers such as Topiary, and kicked her project fully into gear when an early version of LulzSec hacked the emails and social media of the head of a major private tech security firm. After this attack, Olson stayed in touch with Topiary and Sabu, and met other members of the group, once or twice in person, throughout LulzSec’s short run of activity, until Sabu was revealed to be an FBI informant and many members were arrested. According to Olson, her inspiration for writing her book was the sheer amount of information she collected. After a question and answer session, during which Olson expressed her optimism for the future of “hacktivism,” the event ended with a book signing and seasonal refreshments.