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.
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