At WisCon in 2008, a woman named Rachel Moss attended the convention and took photographs of other con attendees. During the convention, she posted the photos on an online humor forum, with a mocking and extremely offensive narrative of the people and conference panels. People at the con noticed, and spoke out about it immediately in protest online. They were harassed further as more internet forums such as Reddit, Slashdot, and others took note.
(Summary from Isthmus, a Madison, WI weekly paper:Internet famous, real-world notorious: UW student mocks WisCon, starts online firestorm)
Rachel Moss posted photographs and commentary to the online humor forum Something Awful under the title ""WisCon, the Feminist Sci-Fi Convention: A journey of self-hate - Zathlazip journeys into the wide world of fat female fantasy fans and lives to tell the tale." She replaced the faces of the people in the photographs with cartoonish sad faces to obscure their identities (which were later revealed in many cases).
Moss began by writing:
- If you are unfamiliar with this con, it is like any other sci-fi con, except that well over half of the attendees are female, about a third of the panels are political, there is no gaming, and absolutely everybody is a huge bitch. This is my second year attending WisCon. I go because I love this. I remember how much I hate my fellow women, and then I go the whole rest of the year thankful that normal life is never this horrible.
In her postings, Moss attacked:
Transcripts/screenshots of Moss's postings:
- What Rachel Moss did (Angry Black Woman)
Accounts by people involved:
Backlash against the original poster
There was a strong backlash against Moss, both from the audience she was trying to amuse, and from the people she had mocked. Anonymous members of the Something Awful forum, and also some members of the Wiscon community, said publicly that they would be reporting her actions to the University where she was a graduate student and employee, in hopes that she would be disciplined under the University of Wisconsin's harassment policy. A note was reportedly left at her workplace. Moss filed harassment reports with the Madison and the University police departments.
- An anonymous commenter on SA wrote, "If your post on Something Awful is still up on Wednesday, I'll contact Dr. _____ of the Department of Environmental Chemistry and Technology, explain the problem, and ask him to ask you to take it down."
Moss told Something Awful about this and attempted to have her offensive post removed. Administrators removed the post at her request.
However, cached versions were then reposted by others. Many other members of that community (and SASS) turned on her, and would not support her. SASS began to harass her and many people associated with WisCon, posting her address, phone number, and workplace info. Moss also reported receiving death threats.
- Crying "real life, foul!" is a tad hypocritical
- Some words about the issue with the photographer at WisCon this year.
- "She is now saying that she is receiving threats of violence. I have one thing to say about that, and one thing only: If it's you, cut it the fuck out."
- "as a community, we have a right to ask our members to behave in certain ways. Here are three: Do not come to the convention for the sole purpose of mocking your fellow congoers. Do not make threats of physical violence. And do not share other people's personal contact information for the sole purpose of harassing them."
Eating disorders and internalized misogyny
It was later posited that Moss herself was fighting with eating disorders, which may have influenced her behaviour and hatred toward fat women.
- "I still feel angry with her but I feel infinitely sad also, I also feel that might be condescending of me, if so, I'm sorry. This is an illustration of how the people who hate us often are us, and need our help."
- Wickedqueen.net responds
- "However, having an eating disorder and being an asshole are not the same problem... I definitely know that voice. I have done the “fatter than me” count in a room more than once. But the thing is, I don’t agree with it. I know the voice is fucked up and wrong."
Escalation of harassment of WisCon attendees
- Many other online forums reported on the incident. In the process, many people from the photographs and other women, men, and children from WisCon were identified. Some people were harassed over email and their addresses, workplaces, family members, and blogs were posted along with hate speech, rape threats, and death threats.
Responses, commentary, follow-up
- Sharpen the knives! A science fiction convention happened AND SOME FAT PEOPLE CAME! (Jezebel)
- A retired troll is unsympathetic
- "If you are surprised that some of these angry people will take their complaints to your workplace, to your boss, to your employers, then you are stupid or arrogant or both. Pretending that the folks you just poked with giant sharp sticks are the problem for overreacting is a tactic doomed to failure. You cannot ever count on sympathy from the folks you just poked, who caught you with the poking stick in your hand, and an evil grin of glee on your face."
- An open letter to Rachel Moss and the rest of Wiscon 32
- A report on an anti-fat, anti-trans Wiscon report (Alas, a blog)
- Wiscon and Rachel Moss (A Secret Chord)
- Rachel Moss and the situation she created by K. Tempest Bradford.
- Rachel Moss (Modern Mitzvot)
- "her problem is that they dare to define themselves instead of accepting the dominant culture’s definition of them. If you look white, you must be white. If you’re fat, you must be lazy and self-absorbed. If you’re not coughing, you must not be sick, and if you look like one gender, you must adhere to that label. If you say otherwise, then by God, you must be lying! And this is precisely how oppression works: by denying that oppressed people are oppressed, so that you can go on oppressing them with a clean conscience."
- Another reaction to Rachel Moss (Mucking)
- And lo, I have returned with the startling news that there is asshaberdashery on the internets (wickedqueen.net)
- Three quotes on the Wiscon drama (Shapely Prose)
- Rachel Moss and the Wiscon Drama (The F Word)
- Sharpen the Knives : A science fiction convention happened and some fat people came! Coverage from Jezebel. "So here's the thing: Rachel Moss seems like an intelligent, cool, normal person."
- Background article in Wired, on Something Awful, Encyclopedia Dramatica, trolling, and griefing: http://www.wired.com/gaming/virtualworlds/magazine/16-02/mf_goons?currentPage=all
- WisCon Abuse from Almost Diamonds "After them, and the commenters at their blogs, all I've got to say is that I'm proud WisCon is my con and that these are my people. And no one making nasty comments is having as much fun as my people are in those pictures"
- In Response to Rachel Moss by ohpun. "When I read your post to SomethingAwful, I saw ugliness. Not in the pictures you posted, but in the words you wrote. You updated your post several times, so you had many chances to edit or revise your words. We were at the same panels. Indeed, I am in one of your pictures. However, what you wrote had only the faintest resemblance to my memory of what happened. Some of your facts are correct and some are incredibly incorrect, but all your emotional perceptions do not match any other attendees' perceptions. Apparently you heard what you wanted to hear, not what was said. The ugliness you perceived was within you, not in the panel participants."
- Rachel Moss and the Legions of Hiding Assholes by seelight. "there's an internet brouhaha going on over a girl -- word used advisedly -- named Rachel Moss, who went to WisCon and posted a con report on Something Awful with pictures of mostly fat and transgendered participants, taken without permission, making fun of these people for their non-normativity. She apologized, then took her apology back. She took her post down, but someone else put it back up without her permission and a dogpile of cretins jumped in to finish the work. By the time they were done, they pulled WisCon photos off of Flickr to add to the mess, making fatphobic, transphobic, ablist, racist, and generally misogynist comments about a wide variety of individuals, many of whom are my friends . . . some drecksau posted a picture of her in her wheelchair and called her a "cripple" and someone else hoped she'd get cancer and undergo chemo so she could cosplay Charles Xavier. I'm actually crying with rage as I write this. I don't think I can dig deeper into the comments on that post to find the extraneous shit. So far they've turned a picture of a (black) friend of mine into an icon with the tag "100% N*gger" on it, hoped that a Muslim woman's head gets chopped off, and ... I'm not continuing with this filth. "
- Rachel Moss, asshole by jenwrites (regarding "A response to hate") "What better response could there possibly be? It reminds me of the photo of an anti-Vietnam War protester putting a daisy in the barrel of a police officer's gun. "I see your hate, and raise you love." I only hope that Rachel Moss gets the message."
- WisCon and Rachel Moss from A Secret Chord. "If you love to hate your fellow women, just stay the hell away from me. If you enjoy whatever feelings of smug superiority you get when you talk about just how silly, stupid, bitchy and ugly others are, when you publicly mock them for it, when you name them and post their photographs for the expressed purpose of reminding them of just how silly, stupid, bitchy and ugly they are, if you enjoy going into spaces full of people that you find horrible, I seriously hope that you seek help, because it can’t genuinely be pleasant to feel that hateful all the time.
Apparently, since posting this, Rachel Moss has gotten some threats, and whenever one talks about something like this in that context, it is obligatory to mention that such threats are absolutely, 100% not okay."
- This is why I don't believe in safe spaces by The Rotund. "For the record, people are saying the perpetrator has apologized but the apology is screened and the latest comment thread in a public post talks about how NOT sorry she is so draw what conclusions you will from that."
- One Short Note on Rachel Moss by pantryslut. "The situation with WisCon and Rachel Moss illustrates perfectly one very important point.
When you treat people like objects (in this case, objects of ridicule), you tend to forget something. They are not actually objects; they have agency. They have their own opinions, their own thoughts, and their own actions.
If you are lucky and persistent, you will be able to convince them that this isn't true, that they lack this power. They will turn themselves into objects, too.
But if you aren't, and you forget but they don't...
Well, we're seeing what can happen, aren't we?
Sometimes, we don't just crumple and die of shame. Sometimes we fight back.
Sometimes these sorts of lessons are hard-learned. But still necessary. To all parties."
- A Modest Invitation by Lesley. "Do it. Take it. Take my picture and eviscerate me online. It’s just a public, out-loud, communal version of what people do to me inside their heads every single day. It’s happened to me before, online and off. It’ll happen again. It’ll happen every day I leave the house, for the rest of my life.
I am still fat, and I am still not sorry. And nothing you can say, nothing you can post, nothing you can do will change that. No matter how many times you try to humiliate me. No matter how much you want me to hate myself. Because it’s my fucking body. And I don’t owe you a damn thing."
- this is not a test case from The Toybox. "It was not, and never has been, a way to protect the harassers. This isn't a fine line situation. This isn't even a grey spot of sliding scale. This was not the internet alone. This was real life, in the flesh, in a physical location, documented stalking of attendees and their children for the purposes of abusing them. Community standards are not a way to fuck each other over in RL and expect and require people to never talk about it."
- Okay, so I can't shut up this week from But Not the Armadillo. "I think that for her to cry "Real life, foul!" is just a tad hypocritical. And if her actions don't necessarily speak to what kind of student she is, they certainly speak to what kind of colleague she is. As someone who often writes letters of recommendation, I sure as hell would want to know that the person I'm recommending for a job engaged in that kind of behavior. The notion that internet behavior should have no off-line consequences can be just as destructive as it can be constructive, and the fact that these consequences have at times been nonsensical (denying someone a teaching degree because they posted a picture of themselves hold a beer, for example) doesn't mean that truly destructive behavior should go unaddressed just because it happens on the internet."
- WisCon troll attacks: A First Person Experience " I have no problem with people having brought the troll’s behavior to the attention of the dean of students at her university, but I firmly disapprove of making physical threats against her.I found out later that she is a troubled person struggling with an eating disorder, and that elicits some compassion for her in me, but not enough to give her a free pass on this one. Actions have consequences. What makes me particularly sad is that as I’ve begun on a size acceptance path, I’ve found some tremendous writing about struggling with and recovering from eating disorders out in the fat blogosphere that the original poster rejects so violently. She’s managed to piss off and alienate people who could have been strong supporters in her path to healing."
- more control and discipline, plz by Wombat Rampant. "So I have to wonder WTF is wrong with Rachel Moss that she'd consider doing what she did just for the lulz. Sure, I'm a Goon, and we do hassle people in EVE and other games, BUT THEY'RE FUCKING GAMES, PEOPLE. Messing with people IRL like this is just...juvenile and shitty really doesn't begin to describe this. I can totally understand some of the rage that's been expressed over this; it's hard enough to be fat or a minority or LGBT in most places without having one of the places you've come to consider safe violated like this. I don't have any useful suggestions for people on how to deal with the aftermath of this crap, and I wish I did."
- WisCon, fanacademia, and Internet drama from queergeektheory. "As the dust settles and the blog posts move into reflective analysis mode, I’m pleased and impressed by the extent to which the blog and LJ-sphere I know best is using this attack to do what it does best, which is to build a sense of queer, feminist community across time and space."
- More on Rachel Moss and her Legion of Losers by seelight. "When they called me "halfchink" and said that "tall women should die" and posted an actually pretty attractive picture of me on their forum, I have to say, all I could do was laugh. Is that the best they got? Seriously?"
- WisCon 33 panel writeup: Safe Spaces by laceblade.
- the enemy within: wiscon, disability, and hatred from ham.blog. "in summary, for those who haven't: female SA forum-er and grad student (question: in what universe is this acceptable behavior for someone in grad school?) goes to wiscon, takes pictures of folks whom she can make fun of due to their perceived flaws--including fatness, disability, and being transgender--and then posts her whole "report" on something awful, complete with thinly disguised photos. people are upset, of course, and, sadly, it has devolved into some going so far as to send death threats to the original poster (which, in my view, is going too far)."
- RaceFail 09 by Naomi Kritzer. "Outing someone online is a punishment. It's what our community does with traitors and criminals -- Rachel Moss was outed because she was a threat to the community, and could not be properly shunned unless people knew who she was. It is a reasonable response to a genuine threat. It is not a reasonable response to criticism. "
- The Personal Touch of Rachel Moss from A Flight of Ideas. "I wasn’t going to get all outraged about the WisCon drama that is all over the the blogosphere, because enough people have. Honestly, I live in Wisconsin, and I didn’t even know that there was a sci fi convention going on anywhere in the state.
But then I went and looked at the pictures, and read the comments, and saw that someone I personally know, with whom I have personally sat in sacred space, who has shared the story of her body with me, trashed all over the internet. Whoa.
Rachel Moss, let me tell you something: It sucks to get threats. It sucks to be so damn visible. It sucks to have your beliefs get you in trouble. Welcome to the real world. Karma’s a bitch, especially in the digital age."
- A report on an anti-fat, anti-trans, WisCon report from Alas, a Blog by Ampersand. "Why do these things go so smoothly together, like peanut butter and chocolate in a Reese’s commercial? I think that anti-fat bigotry, anti-trans bigotry, and ablism overlap in that all three bigotries are a sort of body fascism. Those who have what society considers the “default body” — by being thin, by being ablebodied, or by being born with genitals that match one’s gender identity — are considered superior to those without the default body, and have the right to mock inferior people with non-default bodies.
And, of course, men also have the “default body,” and women do not. So it’s not surprising that the anti-fat, anti-trans, anti-disabled bigotry in the SASS thread is also shot through and through with misogyny."
- Further thoughts on the gym, by K. Tempest Bradford. "This is one of the things I discovered from that particular set of trolls. 80% of the comments they left were very similar to the one above. They boiled down to: you’re fat and you’re black. As if these two things were something I was meant to be deeply ashamed of. "
- Blessings be to the volunteer librarians among us by ravenm. "As to the issue of Rachel Moss' inability to appreciate women who look different from herself, I feel something between pity and disgust. Pity that she is so shackled by mainstream ideas about who is worth listening to and disgust that she lacks any creativity at all in her choice of victims."
- Who is Rachel Moss? from Seeking Avalon. "WisCon is not my thing. It may very well never be my thing. However setting off a chain reaction of hatred on the internet that involves people's pictures being posted with mocking of size, status as a PoC, mocking of their disabilities and leading to like minded, nasty racist individuals trolling for pics so they can post them with the words 100% N****r - THAT SHIT GOES BEYOND DIVERGING INTERESTS!
Actions have consequences. Rachel Moss took some actions."