The Meow Wars was a Usenet flame war which started on the newsgroup alt.fan.karl-malden.nose and spread throughout the alt.* hierarchy, the so-called "Big 8" groups, and out to the wider Internet, lasting for over one year. The original Meowers were denizens of alt.tv.beavis-n-butthead who responded to the January 9, 1996 "invasion" (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?q=msgid%3A%3C4curm4%24r1%40decaxp.harvard.edu) staged by Harvard students from alt.fan.karl-malden.nose. Once the Harvard students abandoned alt.fan.karl-malden.nose, it became the Meowers' base of operations for what they called their "UseNet Performance Art".
The unique speech patterns of Henrietta Pussycat were the inspiration for Usenet meowing.
There was no formal Meower organization, and frequently little communication among participants. Actions described here were carried out by individuals who chose to identify themselves as Meowers, but some were acting on their own. Likewise, some innocent bystanders were incorrectly identified as Meowers and dragged unwillingly into the fray.
One distinctive hallmark of the Meowers' posting activity was the "cascade," in this instance a large number of messages and replies posted in rapid succession, and typically spread among large numbers of newsgroups.  (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?q=meow+group%3Aalt.college.college-bowl) These messages frequently contained the word "meow" and other feline references, all indirectly mocking a series of parodies of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood character Henrietta Pussycat (1953-2003) that had been posted by the students.  (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?q=group:alt.fan.karl-malden.nose+meow&start=0&scoring=d&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&num=10&as_drrb=b&as_mind=1&as_minm=1&as_miny=1995&as_maxd=1&as_maxm=2&as_maxy=1996) These references were the reason for the "Meower" appellation. Their tactics won them both converts and enemies, and the annoyance of many Usenetters.
As the Meowers spilled over into more newsgroups, reactions varied. Some experienced Usenetters would place the word "meow" and names of commonly seen Meowers into personal filters known as killfiles. This would often lead to the practice of "morphing," where some Meowers would repeatedly alter their message headers and text to remain visible. This also lent the impression that Meowers were greater in number than was the reality. Some users with less capable software, or simply an inclination to fight back, would attempt to engage the Meowers with threats, complaints or insults. In response, the Meowers would use tools like Deja News to find their favorite newsgroups and invade them as well.
The Meowers did not restrict their activities to Usenet. Since most Usenet posters generally still used their real electronic mail addresses when posting (e-mail spam had not yet become a major problem), it was relatively easy to flood mail accounts with thousands of nonsense messages, typically via anonymous remailers. To increase the mayhem, the mail messages were constructed so that they appeared to originate from other people. The mail systems at Boston University and other area colleges were rendered inoperable by one of these floods.
In another series of incidents attributed to Meowers (or, at least, to parties claiming to be such), floods of forged control messages (special articles that are used to control news servers) caused the creation of hundreds of oddly-named newsgroups to appear at many locations. This occured shortly after Fluffy the Cat—a parody (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?hl=en&lr=&th=4605b606dc66a228) of a Harvard student's (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=4gbpuh%24re%40decaxp.harvard.edu) pet  (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=4msakv%24mbf%40decaxp.HARVARD.EDU) and self-proclaimed owner of Usenet—announced the creation of news.admin.cascade. (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=54bf93%24mc6%40lex.zippo.com) (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=Pine.SUN.3.95.961020115151.10298B-100000%40crl.crl.com) The control flood prompted the widespread adoption of digital signatures to verify the authenticity of such messages. The signing software had been made available after a similar earlier incident, but the scale and repetition of these later attacks was unprecedented.
In an attempt to restore order, people who were already in the habit of sending cancel messages (automated deletion requests) against spam added many of the Meower postings to their target lists, and demanded that Meowers' service providers disconnect them. The results of these measures were mixed, as not all servers accepted cancel messages and there were many servers (often inadvertently) open for posting if one's regular access was terminated.
One canceller, Stan Kalisch III, attempted a limited form of Usenet Death Penalty when the service provider of several posters would not close their accounts. Initially targeted were several posting addresses, (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=Pine.SUN.3.95.970125010635.8228A-100000%40crl7.crl.com) followed by the UDP of a specific person, Raoul Xemblinosky (also known as Bufford L. Hatchett and other names). (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=5eol2p%24dh9%40crl.crl.com) Previously, UDP actions were reserved for servers. This led to heated discussions in news.admin.net-abuse.usenet, where ultimately it was agreed that wholesale cancellation of an individual's postings was inappropriate. Consensus held that a measure of that type would not be effective in convincing a provider to change its policies, and it was contrary to the principle that abuse control should be neutral as to content.
While abuse of anonymous remailers and open news servers was long recognized as a nuisance, the activities of Meowers led to a wider belief that it was a threat. Some anonymous remailers were modified so that news posting was restricted, and many open servers were closed. These efforts would be redoubled later when spammers and other vandals began to mimic Meower tactics.
Another development that helped to curb Meower activity was server-side article filtering. Limitations could be placed on combinations of newsgroups, posting rates, and other article characteristics. These measures are limited in that, unlike cancels, they only affect the server on which they are installed.
While the original Meowers, for the most part, moved on to other things (including, in some cases, network administration) or left Usenet altogether, imitators have perpetuated similar posting activity as late as 2004, albeit on a smaller scale. Newer media, such as Web-based bulletin boards, are designed with central control, more effective moderation facilites, and finer control over posting activity to help prevent conflagrations of this type.
- The History of the Empire of Meow, by the 2-Belo (http://www.godhatesjanks.org/webcenter/meow.html) - An account of the Meow Wars from the perspective of the "Meow" faction.
- Ron Schell's criticism of The One True History Of Meow (http://member.newsguy.com/~shpxurnq/archive/raoul96.html) - Another account, more sympathetic to the students.
- Another account of the Meow Wars, courtesy of Tim Young (Dartmouth '96, GWU Law '99) (http://www.gwu.edu/~trivia/meow.html) - A relatively impartial but detailed chronological summary of the events.
- Raoul Xemblinosky's home page (http://member.newsguy.com/~shpxurnq) - A set of stories related to "Usenet Performance Art."