South by Southwest Reverses Course, Schedules Harassment Summit

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Organizer Of Canceled SXSW Panel: We Were Told Our Security Concerns Were Misplaced [Updated].

South by Southwest festival organizers apologized on Friday for canceling two video game-related panels in response to threats of violence. A week after canceling two panels because of violent threats, SXSW has re-invited the panels’ guests — along with many other big names — to speak at a day-long anti-harassment summit. “Earlier this week we made a mistake,” SXSW Interactive organizer Hugh Forrest wrote in a blog post. “By canceling two sessions, we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry.” Now, he says, “it is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address.” Instead of reinstating the panels as they were, SXSW is “working with both groups to develop the most productive focus for their appearances.” The summit, held on Saturday, March 12th, has nearly 20 other confirmed speakers.BuzzFeed and Vox Media threatened to withdraw from the annual technology confab after organizers canceled two panels about harassment in the gaming community.In the wake of a week-long controversy over its cancellation of an anti-harassment panel, the SXSW Interactive Festival has announced that it will not only reinstate the panel but also hold a day-long summit on the topic of online harassment. US Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) and former Texas state senator Wendy Davis, both of whom expressed disappointment with SXSW online, are on the list, along with Facebook’s head of product policy Monika Bickert, Anti-Defamation League director CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, ACLU senior staff member Lee Rowland, and game developer Brianna Wu, who has advocated against harassment during the past year’s Gamergate controversy.

In a Slate column on Thursday, Caroline Sinders—an organizer for one of the canceled panels, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games”—wrote that SXSW said “our concerns were misplaced” and didn’t honor her requests for security during the panel. The first of the panels, titled “Level Up” and coordinated by the interaction designer Caroline Sinders, focused on how design and interface choices can decrease online harassment. Since SXSW allows the community to vote on prospective panels, Sinders had first reached out to festival representatives while her panel was being considered for inclusion, after finding that it had received a slew of negative comments.

Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera and Lynn Walsh from the “SavePoint” panel and Randi Harper, Katherine Cross and Caroline Sinders from the “Level Up” discussion were invited to participate in the Harassment Summit, as well as 19 additional speakers that have so far been confirmed, with more additions to follow. The other, developed with input from supporters of the Gamergate movement, was meant to be a larger discussion of the gaming community, including ethics in games journalism. When Sinders wrote to SXSW and asked that there be security at her panel, she never heard back from the representative—that is, not until SXSW opted to cancel the panel. I didn’t expect them to be at the summit,” she wrote. “Gamergate has nothing to do with online harassment other than being the ones that perpetrate it.” The Open Gaming Society, which organized the second panel, has not yet made a public statement. Even so, a Reddit thread to down-vote “Level Up” was started, but SXSW reps told them not to worry, that public voting only counts for 30 percent of the process.

And Clark, the congresswoman,sent a letter to conference director Hugh Forrest, encouraging him to “stand behind” victims of online violence by reinstating the anti-harassment session. “I urge you to consider the impact of this decision, how it relates to the future of digital media, its economic promise, and our collective obligation to ensure equal participation in it,” Clark wrote. “Our message to targets of online threats and harassment should not be that the Internet is closed to their voices.” I understand security can be hard; I understand wanting to show all sides of an issue and creating a panel that is “of the moment.” But SXSW created a disingenuous and potentially dangerous situation.

She relayed some information about how intense the Gamergate “fandom” can be (trolls sent a SWAT team to her mom’s house one time), but they responded saying the public comments didn’t seem “overtly negative, threatening, or harassing” and that, “our policy with proposals is that the more of a dialogue around ideas the better.” A week later, however, the “Level Up’s” PanelPicker entry was filled with dozens of mostly negative comments and so it was disabled. Sinders immediately emailed SXSW with questions about security and stated her “feelings of slight fear and apprehension around” Gamergate’s panel being chosen.

A week and two phone calls later, the rep responded by saying that SXSW’s “big tent” was big enough for both sides. “If everyone shared the same viewpoint, that would make for a pretty boring event,” the rep said. Sinders wrote back that “in light of the past events and given the ongoing security concerns my panelists and I are all facing, security needs to be present at the panel.

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