Note to convention directors: mocking your attendees on Facebook with sockpuppets isn't the way to win over your attendees. 

Cherry City Comic Con is a brand-new, small comics convention happening at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon next weekend. Like hundreds of other small cons across the nation, it's designed as a fun event for local geeks.

So why is all of fandom hopping mad over it?

The answer comes to us via the blog Sideshow Housewife, who wrote a timeline of the entire debacle. The outrage started when Taffeta Darling, a Dallas geek who runs a podcast called Fangirls: Dames of the Round Table, posted a screengrab to her Facebook account Tuesday. 

In her screengrab, the con's director, Mark Martin, is shown posting to his own Facebook, apparently mocking another woman, Chana, who'd written to the con about her safety concerns and politely asked for a refund:

Taffeta Darling originally posted the screengrab on Cherry City Comic Con's Facebook page in order to draw public attention to the convention director's behavior—only to have Martin delete the entire post, along with the comments of people who posted in her defense.

Before deleting the post, though, he berated Taffeta Darling for posting his private mockery in public. Luckily, someone screengrabbed those comments too:

 

Then, Martin apprently made a sockpuppet Facebook account under the name "BigDaddy Thestickerpro Stickers" and used it to make comments berating Chana for "attacking" the con: 

Unfortunately for him, the sockpuppet publicly displayed Martin's name beneath the pseudonym:

 

But what was the interaction that made "Chana" uncomfortable enough to ask for a refund to begin with?

Apparently, it all comes back to that most controversial of convention topics: Women who cosplay.

Martin himself screengrabbed the following interaction between Chana and the con's Facebook page before deleting it—the interaction that prompted her to ask for a refund. 

 

From the conversations above, it's clear Chana felt the con's Facebook owner was singling out women who cosplay. Here's an example, taken by another Facebook reader, of the female cosplay Martin was posting :

It's not exactly the most family-friendly fare. Combined with a lack of a clear safety policy in place on the con website, it's understandable why Chana and other women might have cause for concern. It's no secret that safety at conventions is a huge issue for attendees, especially women. Just last week, an alleged security issue at a convention prompted widespread debate and anger among fans. While anti-harassment policies are increasingly popular as a way for cons to regulate and eliminate inappropriate behavior, not all conventions have them. 

Cherry City's rules weren't available on its website until late Wednesday night. One of the first posts on the con's Facebook, from October, however, stated: 

First rule of Cherry City Comic Con: There will be absolutely NO HATE!

Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. Period.

Martin appeared to have forgotten this rule when he mocked Chana for requesting a refund. And all the other times he mocked her after that using sockpuppetry. He also appears to have used at least one other sockpuppet to defend himself, one from a user named "Cassie" who originally posted from the official CCCC Facebook account. Whoops—the con organizers denied anyone named Cassie worked on their staff. Another commenter and possible sockpuppet named "Devon Marie" also appeared . This commenter appeared to be a stand-in for Martin by virtue of knowing Chana's full first and last name. They quickly deleted their comments. 

In the meantime, the damage control has begun: the con's Facebook updated Wednesday with an extended explanation of its safety policies at long last. And it took until late Wednesday for the website to be updated. The convention safety director, Joe Gray, also noted in comments that "approximately 5-7 of the security/safety team" would be on site in the morning and evening, and that the con would also "have an additional 6 backup individuals attending the event and will be on site if the need arises."

Many felt that, while the changes addressed important issues, the statement missed the broader point. As Kelsea Sloper Von Cadenburg wrote:

It's not about security guards. The original issue was about being sexually harassed and the extremely sleazy and unprofessional manner a simple refund request was handled.

Finally, Martin himself issued an apology from the main convention Facebook:

 "I would like to publicly apologize for the remarks made on my account earlier. I was angry over a situation and wrongfully took it out on someone. I understand what I did was wrong and have definitely learned a valuable lesson. I don't want my actions to reflect the event. I know they have, at this point, but we are 2 separate entities and I hope that moving forward my bad behavior won't have further effect on the event. Cherry City Comic Con has always been publicized as a family-friendly event and there is a zero tolerance harassment policy in place I broke the rules and I am sorry. I have messaged the person I made fun of and apologized to them also and I truly hope they can accept my apology as well."

While Martin again referenced the harassment policy, we could not verify that the con had previously posted this on its website or anywhere publicly, for that matter. And again, this apology satisfied few respondents. Many commented that they felt the entire timeline of events was troubling given the known problems with harassment and sexism within geek culture. As Justin Sexton said:

It's not just about safety anymore. It's about the lack of respect, both in the original comment and in every comment since then. It's about deleting posts and stifling conversation. It's about, frankly, playing directly into every misogynistic stereotype about geek culture and perpetuating it. And it's about whether this con can rise above that and be something I support. So far, signs point to no.

Martin may arguably have broken the con's own harassment policy when he encouraged his Facebook followers to ridicule Chana for asking for a refund. At the very least, he seems to have made plenty of others think twice about attending. "I was going to attend and sell this print but… yeah," wrote burritomadness on Tumblr in response.

Gray distanced himself from Martin's actions in his Facebook post, noting that Martin was not on the security team. He did not specify, however, whether Martin would receive any kind of punishment for his behavior. Martin responded to an email request for comment with the following statement:

My name is Mark, the individual in question. I own the CCCC and It was my actions that lead to this unfortunate event. I posted on my personal profile my frustration over the situation. When one has invested their time, money and heart into something- when you feel like it is being attacked, you don't always handle it the best way, and I did not. It was not my intention to cause harm but I did and for that I’m truly very sorry.

We are trying to create a convention where we all can share our interests, passions, and loves.

...

As a convention we are prepared to review, as a team, harassment policies and to ensure that myself and others on the team will never act in such a way again. And we welcome further suggestions on how we can make our convention a place for everyone to enjoy!

I say that I completely apologize for the way I behaved. It was not the best way to handle it and I am ashamed of my actions and how it affected people's opinion of the convention and myself. At this point all we can do now is show people how our convention is a place to bring their families to all share their interests. On a personal level all I can do is show how my outburst was a singular act that is no way a statement of my character.

Although Martin and con staff appear to have learned from the experience, the incident provides an important glimpse into the complexities of con culture, harassment, and attitudes towards women in geek spaces.

Photo via otakuunited/deviantART/CC BY-S.A.-3.0