SXSW apologizes for canceling online harassment panel; announces all-day summit

When SXSW Interactive Festival organizers cancelled two panel sessions addressing harassment and GamerGate last week following “threats of on-site violence,” conference organizers promptly were met with a furious outcry that included statements from BuzzFeed and Vox Media criticizing the decision.

The decision was seen as a cowardly response that unwittingly underscored the effects of harassment.

Following the backlash, SXSW has decided to reinstate the panels as part of an all-day Online Harassment Summit. In a blog post, SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest said the decision to cancel the panels was “a mistake.” Online harassment, he wrote, is “a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm.”

Last week, BuzzFeed executives Ze Frank, Dao Nguyen and Ben Smith penned an open letter to SXSW noting that its employees were scheduled to moderate or participate on several SXSW panels. “We will feel compelled to withdraw them 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,” the letter offered.

More pointedly, Randi Harper, one of the panelists who is scheduled to speak at the event, tweeted, “I've been receiving constant threats for a little over a year now. SXSW dealt with it for a week”.

“Gamers for so long have been waiting for their chance to speak up about the poor representation they've received in the media, and SavePoint is that opportunity,” wrote Perry Jones, a moderator of one the cancelled panels.

But, in August, The Society of Professional Journalists hosted “#SPJ AirPlay,” a panel discussion dedicated to exploring online controversies like GamerGate. The panel included several GamerGate panelists, several journalists, and no critics of GamerGate – and was evacuated mid-session after repeated bomb threats.

“What happens when you give GamerGate panelists almost everything they want at AirPlay?” asked the panel's moderator Michael Koretzky, in a blog post prior to the panel. “They threaten to quit.”

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