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SXSW cancels gaming panels after threats of violence


SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest announced in a blog post yesterday that SXSW has cancelled two sessions after being overwhelmed by threats of violence. The two panels, “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” focus on harassment and the male-dominated gaming community. The gaming community shot into public consciousness in August 2014 amid the #Gamergate controversy, which saw an anonymous group brutally harass gamer women associated with feminist or progressivist politics. #Gamergate quickly escalated to issuing death threats to female game journalists such as Anita Sarkeesian and game developers such as Zoë Quinn, and their harassment continues today.

Let’s get this straight. Given #Gamergate’s exposure in mainstream media, it seems obvious that SXSW would receive violent threats for hosting these panels. What does seem surprising is that SXSW folded so quickly when they must have anticipated this intimidation. Rather than increase the security presence of the festival and/or let the panelists decide whether they want to participate amid threats of violence, SXSW simply bowed to #Gamergate harassers and perpetuated the silence and persecution of women in gaming.

Throughout Forrest’s statement he refers to SXSW as a “marketplace of ideas” rather than a culture festival, which highlights SXSW’s imperative to sell ideas rather than protect or distribute them. Also, describing oneself as a commercial venture seems to be a reminder that SXSW does not have a responsibility to further culture, but rather to profit, of which these sort of lady problems get in the way. Forrest states, “Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.”

“Strong management,” indeed.

Forrest’s statement in full below.

On Monday, October 26, SXSW Interactive made the call to cancel two sessions for the 2016 event: “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic.

However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.

SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.

However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.

Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.

– Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive Director


After threats by Buzzfeed and Vox Media to withdraw from SXSW entirely, it looks like the Austin festival has not only reinstated the panels on harassment in the gaming community, but is considering expanding them to an all-day event on the topic. Re/code has the report, an excerpt of which is below:

Our sources add that SXSW has talked with BuzzFeed and Vox Media about including them in the event. One of the panels, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” has been reinstated. (Update: Though the “Level Up” panel may have been reinstated by the organizers, panelist Randi Harper reached out to clarify that the participants have not yet agreed to speak at SXSW.) It is unclear whether the other panel, which is affiliated with the online misogyny movement Gamergate, will be brought back.

A chief concern for holding such an event would be managing security. In an update today on the SXSW website, SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest wrote that the festival was “working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.” Last October, feminist critic (and Gamergate target) Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University because someone threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” Texas (SXSW is held in its state capital, Austin) has some of the laxest gun control regulations in the country; earlier this year, the state legislature passed a law permitting people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses.


SXSW has reinstated the panels! And a day-long harassment summit! Details here:

Earlier this week we made a mistake. 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 resulting feedback from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear. While we made the decision in the interest of safety for all of our attendees, cancelling sessions was not an appropriate response. We have been working with the authorities and security experts to determine the best way to proceed.

It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address.

To that end, we’ve added a day-long summit to examine this topic. Scheduled on Saturday, March 12, the Online Harassment Summit will take place at SXSW 2016, and we plan to live-stream the content free for the public throughout the day.

The summit will include Randi Harper, Katherine Cross and Caroline Sinders from “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” as well as Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” We are working with both groups to develop the most productive focus for their appearances.

A number of additional speakers have been invited to join the summit to expand the conversation and give this issue the substantive discussion it deserves. Confirmed speakers include:

Monika Bickert (Head of Product Policy, Facebook)
Soraya Chemaly (Writer/Director, WMC Speech Project)
Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts)
Wendy Davis (Women’s Rights Advocate; former TX State Senator)
Mark DeLoura (VP Technology, formerly with Sony, Nintendo, Google, and White House OSTP)
Mary Anne Franks (Law Professor, University of Miami School of Law and Legislative & Tech Policy Director, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative)
Jonathan Greenblatt (CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League)
Umair Haque (
Sarah Jeong (Contributing Editor, Vice Motherboard)
Emma J. Llansó (Director, Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology)
Emily May (Co-founder and Executive Director, Hollaback!)
Kelly McBride (Vice President of Academic Programs, The Poynter Institute)
Shireen Mitchell (Founder, Digital Sisters and Stop Online Violence Against Women)
Nika Nour (Director, Communications and Creative Strategies, Internet Association)
Meredith L. Patterson (Security Researcher)
Joseph Reagle (Northeastern University and Author, “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web”)
Jeffrey Rosen (President & CEO, National Constitution Center)
Lee Rowland (Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project)
Ari Ezra Waldman (Associate Professor of Law, New York Law School)
Brianna Wu (Head of Development, Giant Spacekat)
Online harassment is a serious matter and we stand firmly against hate speech and cyber-bullying. It is a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm.

SXSW strives to bring a diverse range of voices together to facilitate meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of civility and respect. Given the nature of online harassment, we will continue to work closely with the authorities and safety experts while planning for SXSW 2016.

Stay tuned to the SXSW website in the coming weeks for additional details.

*More presenters will be announced as their participation is confirmed. All speakers subject to change.