This story has been updated.
SXSW has been getting a ton of press this past week for canceling (then reinstating) two panels around online hate crimes and bullying: "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games."
Due to threats catapulted by an online gaming harassment movement called Gamergate, SXSW decided to cancel the panels. Due to backlash from panelists and media - including Vox Media and Buzzfeed - SXSW reinstated the panels for a "One Day Online Harassment Summit"
For background, Gamergate (in a nutshell) is a " is a loose online community that arose last year and targeted a number of prominent women in the gaming industry. It purports to be countering what it sees as unfair criticism of gaming and gamers, specifically charges that games often depict women in demeaning ways." (as reported by Re/code, who has been providing updates of the situation in real-time.)
Apparently the group is full of it, and all they've accomplished in fighting for "unfair criticism" is harassing and threatening women online and anyone else who speaks against their movement, per Re/Code's article.
Buzzfeed and Vox Media won't stand for SXSW giving into the online haters and canceling the panels that call out their behavior. They told SXSW last week that they're disappointed in the festival succumbing to the online hate group, and they won't send their media staff unless the panels are reinstated.
SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest responded to the two media companies, stating that safety is their first priority above all:
We want the SXSW community to know that we hear and understand your frustrations and concerns about the recent cancellation of two SXSW Gaming panels.
The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.
Moving forward, we are also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved.
We will provide more information soon.
Was SXSW making the right decision to "go the safe route" and give into online threats made by a "hate group"? SXSW believes they were wrong, and just days later turned over their previous decision to cut the panels, reinstating them both for the "One Day Online Harassment Summit". This is due to a ton of backlash from the gaming community, as well as the media outlets. [UPDATE] Buzzfeed has announced that they will return to SXSW; Vox Media has yet to comment.
When Re/code first reported on the panels' cancellations, they stated that when the panels were first scheduled, the panelists knew that the sessions were a controversial hot topic and that there would be some risk involved.
Randi Harper, a prominent female figure in the gaming community, was to be a panelist on the "Level Up" panel, and has been a frequent target of the online hate group. She's quoted in Re/code as saying:
In addition to her statement, she says that there hasn't been any progress in how events like SXSW handle threats by the group and those similar. Simply giving in and canceling the panels isn't a solution and apparently neither is hosting an official summit about online harassment - with supporters tied to online harassment featured on the panels.
They [SXSW] weren't clear about what the threats were, beyond their violent nature ... We contacted [SXSW] first, saying 'This is gonna be controversial, there's a mob that follows us around.' They knew exactly what they were getting into. It's the same boilerplate warning I give any conference I speak at.
Yes, Gamergate supporters will be included in the panels: Mercedes Carrera and Nick Robalik. Victims and targets of the online threats are now pulling out of panel participation, including Randi Harper:
What SXSW did was equivalent to allowing a perpetrator of domestic violence to stand on a stage next to the woman he abused.— Randi Lee Harper (@randileeharper) October 30, 2015
It kind of makes sense, too - talk about being put in the line of fire. Randi states that the issue of panelists safety (which was the initial reason SXSW used for canceling the panels) is even more prevalent with the online hate group supporters in attendance for the summit:
This shows a gross incompetence. They do not understand what they are doing, and I am not confident that they have our safety as a priority.— Randi Lee Harper (@randileeharper) October 30, 2015
The obvious solution is that the issue of online harassment should not be ignored and should be publicly addressed so a) there is awareness brought to the issue and b) some path of resolution can be formed. But as Randi quotes, does it make sense for the harasser to debate the victim? In what other situation would this ever be acceptable?
No one would say abusers should be allowed to debate those they abused. This shows SXSW does not understand online harassment.— Randi Lee Harper (@randileeharper) October 30, 2015
How can we challenge ourselves to start a positive movement that stands against online hate? The first step seems to be not just talking about it, but talking about it in the right way and in the right setting (looking at you, SXSW.)
To quote game developer Brianna Wu, Head of Development at Giant SpaceKat, in Re/Code's article, "I think SXSW needs to pick up the phone, ask [Randi Harper] what she needs to feel safe at this event and make it happen."
Tweet me your thoughts @lizprugh. We'll update the post as news progresses.