SXSW Cancels Gaming Harassment Panel Over Violent Threats – And Drops Gamergate Panel Too (UPDATE)

Posted by October 26, 2015 Comment

sxswLevel Up: Overcoming Harassment In Games was a planned panel for SXSW 2016, part of the PanelPicker where people can vote on the panels they would like to see at the show. It described itself as,

A panel from experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture, how to combat it, how to design against it, and how to create online communities that are moving away from harassment. The panel will dive into data around abuse in larger gaming communities. One of our panelists will talk about about ways to actually develop the social aspects of games – including UI decisions and how they can influence accuracy and usage of reporting abuse. Another will dive into UX design choices to stymy harassment in social media spaces.

With questions such as,

What do affordances of online conversation look like and how do you use design to stimulate a conversational space but also allow for robust privacy

How do we create an ecosystem with an online gaming space that allows for safety but also the feeling of open communication?

How do we reframe and take back the narrative around game spaces to create inclusivity and diversity amongst gamers?

With speakers Caroline Sinders (IBM Watson), Katherine Cross (CUNY Graduate Center/Writer for Gamustra) and Randi Harper (Online Abuse Prevention Initiative)

It got picked. A panel about overcoming harassment? The laws of irony dictate only one outcome. Randi tweeted

This was even more ironic in the face of the news that SXSW had already approved a Gamergate-related panel, without having to go through any pesky vote. Motherboard reported,

Prospective SXSW attendees are asking the festival to clarify its security plans after a panel about the controversial online movement about video game culture GamerGate was approved this week.

Although the event, “SavePoint – A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” is not described on the schedule as explicitly GamerGate-affiliated, several of its panelistshave been involved in the hashtag movement.

The panel will be moderated by Perry Jones. It will feature speakers Mercedes Carrera, Nick Robalik, and Lynn Walsh from the Society of Professional Journalists, who appeared on another GamerGate panel in August that was interrupted by a bomb threat.

As well as adding a letter sent to someone who expressed concern by a SXSW representative,

We appreciate your thoughts and always welcome feedback from our community. That said, SXSW is a big tent and we strongly believe in showcasing a very diverse range of ideas and opinions, even if we as a staff don’t always agree with them. If everyone shared the same viewpoint, that would make for a pretty boring event.

Then the other show dropped. Here is the letter that SXSW sent out.

This email serves as notice that SXSW Interactive has made the decision to cancel the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” session for March 2016 in Austin.
On the one hand, we are an event that prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.
On the other hand, preserving the sanctity of that big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful — so that people can agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place. We have already received numerous threats of violence regarding this panel, so a civil and respectful environment seems unlikely in March in Austin. For this reason, we have also canceled other sessions at the 2016 event that focused on the GamerGate controversy.
We are strong believers in community at SXSW — and a healthy community sometimes requires strong management. Preserving the sanctity of the big tent is more important than preserving any particular session.

So that’s the Gamergate-related panel cancelled too – and SXSW choosing to equate the two in this matter. But right now it looks like that “marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas” they talked about is shrinking rather…

UPDATE: SXSW has just issued an official statement, repeating much of the letter but elaborating in places. It runs in in full, below.

On Monday, October 26, SXSW Interactive made the call to cancel two sessions for the 2016 event: “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic.

However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.

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.

— Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive Director


(Last Updated November 15, 2017 4:01 am )