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 panelists have 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. The August incident was not the first time a GamerGate-related event was shut down by bomb threats.
In light of those incidents as well as past harassment and threats from members of GamerGate, many people have expressed concern about the panel on Twitter and some have vowed not to attend the festival.
“You can be certain that any disruptions, agitations, or 'pot stirring' will be dealt with swiftly.”
Writer Sydette Harry called the decision “bullshit,” tweeting that she was “utterly and canonically tired of EVERYONE” in light of SXSW’s decision to allow a GamerGate panel. “Stop saying ‘I want to be fair’ as a way of minimizing folks feelings of fear and trauma to justify what you like,” she said.
One prospective speaker on a separate panel who has been harassed and stalked by GamerGate notified SXSW organizers that she feels unsafe in light of the panel’s approval and received the following response, which she called “patronizing.”
Hi [name redacted],
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.
“It raises the question, what is a debate?” she said. “It’s good to include all voices, but what if one of the voices is extremely antagonistic? Then it becomes, this is not an open debate, you aren't creating an inclusive space.”
Although many targets of GamerGate and prospective attendees have laid out concerns, Perry Jones, the founder of and editor for the Open Gaming Society and the GamerGate panel’s organizer, said he is committed to keeping an “open and cordial discussion” at the event. He said his organization, which keeps a “neutral stance” on GamerGate, will be providing its on security in addition to the coverage SXSW provides.
“A lot has happened in the last year and there’s a lot to reflect on. I imagine that tensions may run a bit high, but we won’t let things get out of hand,” he said. “You can be certain that any disruptions, agitations, or 'pot stirring' will be dealt with swiftly.”
Jones said the panel will cover three main topics related to the GamerGate hashtag movement: the current social-political climate of the gaming community, the importance of journalistic ethics in video game journalism, and the future of the gaming community and the industry.
SXSW told Motherboard in an email that it is still planning specifics of the festival, which is currently five months away, “including details on these GamerGate related sessions,” but the panelist who reached out to organizers about her safety concerns still hasn’t heard back, which she said is reflective of larger issues of inclusivity in the tech world.
“I think it says a lot about the fact that women aren't taken seriously or respected in tech spaces and neither are their concerns,” she said. “It raises the question, do you care about the community that you're growing? The reaction really says no.”
Corrections: An earlier version of this story said Perry Jones would appear on the panel and Lynn Walsh would be moderating; that is incorrect. Perry Jones is moderating the panel and Lynn Walsh is a panelist. An earlier version of this story also said Walsh moderated the panel in August; she was a panelist. The story also referred to a DC panel being cancelled by a bomb threat, when the event was better described as a "gathering."