Here's Why Everyone's Mad At SXSW

Update: Buzzfeed is threatening to withdraw itself from SXSW if the panels are not reinstated. In a letter to SXSW's organizers, three company leaders write, "We will feel compelled to withdraw [the panels Buzzfeed staffers are involved with] if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day — to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment."

After receiving threats of violence, SXSW Interactive announced it would be canceling two panels at its March festival in Austin, Texas. The decision, which was reportedly made in order to maintain strong community management, is drawing strong criticism.

SXSW cancelled the panels "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games." At a glance, they both seem to have one thing in common: Gamergate, the harassment-riddled movement by some in the gaming community against "corrupt" press (namely, women gamers).

In actuality, the latter had nothing to do with Gamergate. It was designed to be a broad, solutions-oriented discussion of the online world at large by Randi Harper, programmer and founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, writer Katherine Cross, and IBM Watson interaction designer Caroline Sinders.

"Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session," SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest wrote in the panel cancellation announcement.

That statement was somewhat of an about-face from previous sentiment supporting the decision to add the SavePoint panel (which featured pro-Gamergate individuals) in the first place: "SXSW is a big tent and we strongly believe in showcasing a very diverse range of ideas and opinions," a SXSW representative wrote in an email sent to Vice.

Many people are voicing their disapproval of SXSW's decision on Twitter, and rightfully so. Online harassment is, clearly, still a very big deal. It needs to be talked about, and it needs solutions. Gaming company Finji even announced that it would not be presenting at SXSW's Gaming Spotlight following the removal of the online harassment panel, and it's possible that other companies and developers could follow suit.
There is a certain unfortunate irony in SXSW canceling a panel on online harassment because of online harassment.


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