SXSW Announces All-Day Summit on Harassment After Canceling Panels

But not all those invited may attend.

|
Oct 30 2015, 6:54pm

Photo: Gino/Flickr

SXSW said on Friday it "made a mistake" this week in cancelling two video game panels, one about topics related to GamerGate, an online movement whose members have criticized video game journalism while also engaging in harassment campaigns primarily aimed at women in the industry, and the other about mitigating online harassment.

The festival has apologized and added a day-long summit examining the topic of online harassment that is set to include both canceled panels.

"It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address," the statement from SXSW said.

SXSW previously canceled panels "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games," due to threats of on-site violence. The SavePoint panel, organized by a group called Open Gaming Society, was to discuss "topics that are related to the GamerGate hashtag movement," according to one of the organizers.

The SavePoint panel would not be pro-GamerGate, the organizer said, although some targets of GamerGate harassment said some of its members were well-known advocates of the controversial movement.

The decision to cancel both panels came after members of the Level Up panel, some of whom had been targets of GamerGate harassment themselves, said SXSW did not take their security concerns surrounding the festival seriously.

SXSW's decision to remove both panels drew widespread criticism, including letters from the ACLU and Congresswoman Katherine Clark. It also prompted Vox Media and Buzzfeed to pull out of the festival.

"Earlier this week we made a mistake," Friday's statement from SXSW said. "By cancelling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry."

The proposed March 12 summit will include a number of experts and advocates whose work relates to online communities and harassment, including Motherboard contributing editor Sarah Jeong and former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.

The programming includes both the SavePoint and Level Up Panels, although pro-GamerGate developer Nick Robalik, who has allegedly followed and photographed GamerGate target Zoe Quinn at conferences in the past, is notably missing from the new SavePoint lineup. Participants in the SavePoint panel, including Robalik did not reply for request for comment.

Randi Lee Harper, a panelist on the anti-harassment panel, said on Twitter Friday she was not aware the SavePoint panel was to be included in the anti-harassment summit and is no longer sure if she will still participate.

"This shows a gross incompetence," she tweeted. "They do not understand what they are doing, and I am not confident that they have our safety as a priority."

Caroline Sinders, an interaction designer at IBM Watson who was slated to speak on the 'Level Up' panel with Harper and Katherine Cross, also said she was disappointed the SavePoint panel was reinstated as part of the anti-harassment day.

"I wanted them to be re-included at SXSW, but I didn't expect them to be at the anti-harassment panel," she told Motherboard by Twitter DM. "Having SavePoint included creates a moot reason to even have an anti-harassment summit. At this time, I can't confirm if we are speaking."

SXSW is taking "no further interviews at this point," but its statement said to "stay tuned to the SXSW website in the coming weeks for additional details."

"I still plan to speak on it and am glad the panel has been reinstated," said Lynn Walsh, one of the panelists on the SavePoint panel. "I am also glad SXSW has decided to expand the conversation on online harassment and bring in individuals from various free speech and media organizations to discuss the issue. I look forward to representing SPJ, the Society of Professional Journalists."

Participants in the SavePoint panel, including Robalik did not reply for request for comment.