SXSW (Finally) Responds to Panel Cancellation Backlash, Announces Day-Long Summit

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

SXSW (Finally) Responds to Panel Cancellation Backlash, Announces Day-Long Summit.

The South By Southwest Festival will hold a one-day summit about the issue of online harassment, a response to the outcry after organizers cancelled two panels earlier this week.The SXSW Interactive conference faced a growing outcry after it canceled two discussion panels intended to tackle online harassment and related issues plaguing the games community.SXSW reversed its decision Friday to cancel two gaming-related panels due to threats of violence — and then some — by announcing an “anti-online harassment” summit day for its 2016 conference that will include the original panelists.

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 not to participate in the annual festival in March 2016 in Austin, Tex., after SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest on Tuesday announced the cancellations of two sessions about video games and 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. To that end, we’ve added a day-long summit to examine this topic.” The controversy began Monday, when SXSW Interactive released a statement saying that due to “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming,” the organization was canceling the “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” panels. After conversations with law enforcement authorities and security experts, the conference decided to hold an online harassment summit during the conference on March 12.

It’s not clear how this will translate into the larger summit, and developer Randi Harper — one of the anti-harassment panelists — expressed frustration with the decision to fold it into the day-long event instead of simply re-adding it separately. “I pushed for Gamergate to be re-added to the schedule. 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.

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. Neither panel mentioned “GamerGate,” the long-running movement spawned amid protests over misogyny and violence against women in game culture that led to ugly incidents in which women were threatened and had personal information made public. Sinders immediately emailed SXSW with questions about security and stated her “feelings of slight fear and apprehension around” Gamergate’s panel being chosen. In response to SXSW’s initial decision, Vox Media and BuzzFeed said they would withdraw from participating in the festival if the organizers didn’t reverse the decision.

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. More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader.

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