On Monday (Oct. 26), South by Southwest (SXSW) pulled two panels focused on the gaming industry culture from their 2016 event in Austin, Texas due to violent threats -- and people are pissed.
While the panels -- "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" -- have been linked to the Gamergate controversy, organizers behind both have said their events were not focused specifically on the controversy (which, while ostensibly about journalistic ethics, devolved into vicious harassment of female game developers and critics).
Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival Hugh Forrest wrote in a blog post that, within seven days of announcing the two events, SXSW "received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming." He continued that the reaction to the two panels threatened the "sanctity" of the festival:
SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.
However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.
Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.
The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative's Randi Harper, who was supposed to be a panelist at the "Level Up" event, said on Twitter that SXSW organizers told her via email that they were also canceling "other sessions at the 2016 event that focused on the GamerGate controversy." Harper's panel wasn't about GamerGate specifically, however, but rather focused on harassment prevalent in gaming communities.
The other panel, "#SavePoint: A Discussion For the Gaming Community," organized by The Open Gaming Society also released a statement about their disappointment with their panel being cancelled. Perry Jones, founder and president, wrote on the society's site that he'd spoken with officials about the decision:
SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another. We’re all very passionate about this medium and sometimes we let that passion get the best of us – and that’s on both sides of the table.
The Open Gaming Society has mentioned plans to hold their panel as a separate entity from the official event. Media companies Vox Media and BuzzFeed also said they hoped the festival would reconsider their decision to cancel the panels -- otherwise, they would withdraw from the festival completely.
"By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today," Vox Media wrote in their official statement. "We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them. Vox Media will not be participating in this year's festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us."
On Tuesday (Oct. 27), a Change.org petition launched to reinstate the panels. "Your decision to cancel two panels on the harassment of women in the gaming community ... sends a worrying message to the thousands of women who experience online harassment every single day," write petition authors Aminatou Sow, Bridget Todd, Rachel Sklar and Liz Plank.
Calling the decision "community management," they continue, signals "that women are not part of the community that's worth protecting. When you silence those panels, you are silencing women. You are enabling more harassment, giving those who use violence, even more power."