WisCon Troll Attacks: A First-Person Experience

Cynthia Gonsalves says:

Many of you out there have heard about the systematic trollage of one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy conventions, WisCon, over this past weekend. [Information is easily available on the net, but summaries and links are here, {Eamong other places.] One young woman managed in one fell and pestilent swoop to hit all the spaces for a blanket win of Asshole Bingo. The troll thread she started on SomethingAwful.com was full of attacks on fat people, transpeople, people with disabilities, women, etc. You get the picture, don’t you?

[EDITED to update link, which now goes to an extensive link roundlup by Malcolm Gin. It previously pointed to an earlier and far less extensive roundup.]

I was moderating a panel on self-care strategies for activists, which got caught up in the trollage; one of my co-panelists was singled out for abuse as a transperson, and the other co-panelist had her chronic disease [fibromyalgia] labeled “imaginary.” Me, I just was just another fat woman offending the troll’s sensibilities by being Openly Fat in Public. The substance of our panel seems to have been for her tastes; she was more offended by who the people in the front of the room were. And of course, if any of you had the misfortune to read the original posts (which have now been taken down), the troll got me and the other woman panelist confused. Sloppy, sloppy troll.

When I found out about all this crap last Sunday night, my initial desire was to smash her like a bug with my fat self; however, I got over that quickly. Losing my shit wasn’t going to be effective, and I needed my friends around me not to lose their shit either. My wrath got hot again when I heard that children of some of my friends and acquaintances had gotten targeted, but seeing effective group action beginning to take place helped me cool off again.

When I found out that this person had been identified by tracking the slime trail she’d left on the Internet (when doing detective work like this, please make sure you’ve got the right person; why direct wrath on the innocent namesakes?), I knew the Threefold Rule [whatever you put out in the universe will come back to you three times as strong] was kicking in. The technopagan part of me was nodding (she who lives by the trollage will die by the trollage). 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.

Part of me is somewhat surprised that the WisCon community hasn’t had to deal with this kind of attack sooner, because we collectively give the finger to the sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic trolls’ sense of what is right and proper in the universe. I’m hoping that we can work on protection strategies against the inevitable attacks; we can’t lock things down hard without killing the vitality of the community. There are always going to be People Being Wrong on the Internet, and directing their wrongheaded nastiness at us.

14 thoughts on “WisCon Troll Attacks: A First-Person Experience

  1. Hey there, Due to your trackback, I made a metapost that collates all of the links I compiled for the WisCon troller discussion.

    It might be a more suitable link for you to include, so feel free to review it and link to it instead if you like.

    It can be found at: http://www.malcolmgin.com/blog/2008/05/31/meta-post-about-the-wiscon-troller/

    Even though it looks like the troller isn’t sorry (except for involving kids), I am personally sorry that she did what she did, because it caused so much suffering, even though like you and like others I know, I agree that this sort of thing was unfortunately inevitable.

    Here’s to our community getting stronger.

  2. You are quite welcome. I just updated the metapost with a bunch more Google hits, but the warning is that some of these links are really not sympathetic at all, so wear flame retardant underwear!

  3. the whole situation just strikes me as so incredibly ridiculous. in what universe is that sort of behavior acceptable–particularly for a grad student in anthropology?

    this was a great post–however, i’m so sorry that you and your fellow panel members had to weather such vicious attacks. i’ll be linking to this post on my blog.

  4. They aren’t bad people because they are disgusted, you are a bad person because you are disgusting.

    All Rachel Moss did to you was show you as you are, that is the reason why you and your kind reacted so much to what she said and you have no one to blame for who you are but yourselves.


  5. You know, her fibromyalgia wasn’t labeled “imaginary”. It was labeled “fake”. I think that’s even worse. Perhaps “imaginary” could be stretched to mean psychosomatic, which isn’t true either, but at least less of an accusation.

    “Fake” implies an intent to deceive, for some benefit. To call the disease fake is to say that the person is dishonest and selfish. That’s a pretty nasty accusation, and the intention of Ms. Moss in making it is clear: Whether she believes it is fake or not, she obviously says this in order to damage the reputation and/or feelings of the person.

  6. Children, in innocence, say whatever comes into their heads. Most of us get trained out of it, one way or another, because that behaviour becomes malicious and unattractive point-and-jeer and reminds too much of our remote primate ancestors’ poo-flinging.

    As we age and (it is hoped) attain wisdom, most of us develop compassion and empathy for others. Because physically many things change: abilities, health, one’s metabolism. And those changes happen to us and to people we love as well as to total strangers.

    That said: We do live in a culture which encourages certain social infantilisms well past the nominal-adult stage; we do live in an age which mistakes rudeness for honesty; and we do live in a climate in which poo-flinging too often substitutes for discourse.

    Let’s change that, OK?

  7. t wldn’t b mch trbl fr gns t frc Wscn t f vry htl nd cs th mngmnt f th cnvntn t mps rprt lk scrt rstrctns t kp t th trlls. Tht’s th lst f wht cld b dn. n n-hlds brrd cnflct wldn’t cnt n th lgl sstm tkng th sd f bnch f drg srs, ftshsts, brdrln pdphls and wrds gnst gd ctzns rprtng llgl ctvts t th cnvntn t th prpr thrts.

    Yr “gns” shld thnk bt tht bfr th g flng n lwsts r trng t gt nn frd r xplld frm schl.

  8. Laurie and I decided to “disemvowel” the anonymous comment above because it is both anonymous and inaccurately nasty.

    Body Impolitic welcomes any comment on any side of any issue we write about; we reserve the right to disemvowel or delete name-calling, slurs, and other uncivil discourse.

  9. Nancy, thank you for the link. I’m waiting a couple more days (both because work and life have become absolutely nutty, timewise and because I want everything to shake out and be complete) to update the meta post, but I’ll roll this in, thank you.

    Re: registration on my blog, if you give me more details at malcolm.gin@gmail.com, I’ll be happy to try to help troubleshoot, or I would be happy to simply create an account for you. Sorry you had trouble!

  10. Y’r nvtng rtltn wth yr ggl bmbng f Rchl. f shs xplld xpct mny mr pcs t b pstd. xpct yr wn dcs t b sprd fr nd wd.

    Wscn’s 1000 mmbrs r n mtch fr th gns.

  11. @Anonymous:
    1) Threats do very little to discourage me.
    2) There’s really no substance to your accusation of Google Bombing. To whit:
    For the history of that post (1800 page views):
    – There were only 9 page views on my meta post for anyone using the term “rachel moss” on Google or other search engines.
    – Google is only the 6th ranked source of referrers. Top 3 are: this site, the sass site and direct links/no referrer.
    – If you actually search “rachel moss” on Google, none of my posts show up on the first page at all, and the one that shows on the second isn’t the post you seem to be complaining about.

    Therefore I conclude that my meta post is just an index of posts about the issue. Its only serious issue right now is that it needs updating to be comprehensive vis a vis posts indexed on Google since the last update on Monday or Tuesday (can’t remember).

  12. Cynthia,
    Thank you for writing this piece. You’ve touched on a point I’d thought of: that Rachel M has alienated the people–maybe the only other people–who could understand her. I’ve sat in eating disorder recovery groups since 1990, and I’ve encountered some truly insane thinking, particularly from the bulimics, probably because of the bizarre nutrition they’re getting, but RM takes the prize (and this with contenders who think that if you take food from a store, eat it, and barf it up in the parking lot, you haven’t stolen anything, because you returned it). Compassion? Sure, I feel it, but I feel much more compassion for all the people she’s attacked. No, she is not excused on medical or mental grounds.

    So after I’ve wrapped my mind around the idea that someone who pays to attend Wiscon twice, who is an Obama supporter, who is 25 years old and a PhD candidate, nevertheless violates people she doesn’t know (and their children) to post nasty all-encompassing bigotry with all the glee of a middle schooler for a standard middle-school reason: to be popular. And she’s shocked and hurt at the response and very, very sorry that she might suffer consequences. (I apologize to the million of middle schoolers to whom these words do not apply.)

    The messages from many of the concern trolls seems to be “How dare fat/trans/disabled/fibro sufferers/polyamorus/mothers/nonAmerican/minority/WOMEN object to anything that skinny white people want to do to them. Don’t they realize they are the legitimate targets of the cool people?”

    I’m responding here because I feel we all have to respond in some way, whether we were personally attacked or not. “They came for the Jews” has been resounding in my head, though in Rachel’s case, she came for everybody at once. And every thinking person has to say “No, that is not acceptable. We accept neither your attacks nor your definitions.”

    I’ve been trying to figure out my best response, but at least I can make a comment. I’d appreciate suggestions.

    I’m truly sorry you experienced this, Cynthia, particularly on the weekend that is the high point of the year for so many of us. I know my second-hand feelings aren’t the same, but for what it’s worth, I stand with you and find that a much better place to be than with Rachel and her nonfriends.

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