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SXSW under fire for removing harassment panel

Update: The ‘SavePoint’ panel has been reinstated, according to Kotaku and that a all-day summit on Online Harassment will be a part of SXSW. It will include many speakers like the panelists and moderator of the ‘SavePoint’ panel and members of the ‘LevelUp’ panel but they have said that they are not confirmed as participating in the all-day summit.  Randi Harper has mentioned via Twitter that having the ‘SavePoint’ panel as part of the Online Harassment summit is a safety concern for those involved with the “levelUp’ panel. Will update this space as the story develops,original story is below

 

South by Southwest, one of the more prominent tech and multimedia conventions has come under heavy fire for its removal of a panel on online harassment.

The panel in question, ‘Level Up: Overcoming harassment in Gaming’, was to discuss online harassment in the gaming and geek communities, how to combat such harassment and how to inoculate online communities from the behaviors’ that promote such harassment. The panelists for ‘LevelUp’ included Katherine Cross from the City University of New York graduate Center and writer for GamaSutra,Randi Harper from the Online Abuse Prevention Iniative and Caroline Sinders from IBM Watson. All three have face harassment both online and off in the past.

An opposing panel, one that germinated from ‘KotakuInAction’ reddit an infamous GamerGate forum, put forward the proposal for the ‘SavePoint’ panel. The panel was created as apart of the ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment of those involved with the “LevelUp’ panel’ during the public voting period. for SXSW panels. The SavePoint panel was to focus on ‘The current sociopolitical climate in the gaming community’ and ‘the importance of journalistic integrity in video game’s media’. The speakers for this panel included Mercedes Carrera,Nick Robalik and Lynn Walsh and would be moderated by Perry Jones,founder of the Open Gaming Society. While not explicitly endorsing ‘GamerGate’, Those involved with the ‘SavePoint’ panel have had some involement with ‘GamerGate’ in the past. In particular,Mr. Jones who hosted a GamerGate function last May.

The online harassment panel was chosen through SXSW’s process of picking a panel (public online vote, advisory committee approval and SXSW staff vote), The SavePoint panel was submitted late, was not subject to the public online vote nor was seen by the advisory committee and was put to a SXSW Staff vote(with objections) yet it was also accepted.

Due to threats and harassment made against the Level Up panel and the panelists/organizers,SXSW decided to cancel the panel as well as the ‘SavePoint’ panel. SXSW explanation is as follows:

“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 cannot 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….  Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session”

This explanation baffled and angered many, especially considering the irony of cancelling a panel discussing online harassment due to online harassment. This is particularly strange considering that the organizers behind the ‘LevelUp’ panel had faced a sustained campaign against their panel from ‘Gamergate’ during the public voting period for SXSW panels. They informed SXSW officials’ of the harassment numerous times but they refused to take action.In their explanation for the cancelled panels, SXSW implied that ‘LevelUp’ was the one side in a debate while ‘SavePoint’ was the other. This isn’t true since nowhere is ‘gamergate’ mentioned in the outline of the ‘LevelUp’ panel but nevertheless were perceived by SXSW as ‘anti-gamergate’.

As a result of the cancellation, both Vox media and Buzzfeed threatened not to attend SXSW unless the ‘LevelUp’ panel was reinstated. SXSW has now come out and offered to reinstate the ‘LevelUp’ panel; however those involved with the panel have not confirmed whether they will participate in the reinstated panel. The fate of the ‘SavePoint’ panel is unclear and nobody’s certain if it will be reinstated also.

This whole situation with SXSW is awful; The fact that SXSW knew that GamerGate was conducting a campaign of harassment against those involved with the LevelUp panel; that they were told many times about it but did nothing to stop it, bending the rules to approve a panel that was in opposition to the ‘LevelUp panel, cancelling both panels and taking a ‘both parties are wrong’ attitude in part to excuse their own negligence and cowardice in refusing to stand up to online harassment. The fact that SXSW seemed to think that the panels in question were opposing sides in a political debate,  then applying that standard to online harassment is ridiculous.  There is no ‘two sides’ to online harassment only those who suffer harassment and those who carry it out;SXSW chose to cave to the harassers instead of backing up those who had been suffering harassment. I hope how SXSW handled the situation does not set a precedent for future conventions. I do not want those who want to silence the critics of online harassment in gaming and geek culture by depriving them of a platform to speak. I hope this debacle will mean the people who run conventions will show more backbone when faced with similar situations.

What do you guys think of what SXSW did, let me know in the comments

 

Sources: ThinkProgress,The Daily Beast,The Daily Dot,ReCode,SXSW,Vox,Polygon,Kotaku

 

About The Author
Corey MacDonald
Corey MacDonald
Corey MacDonald is a student of history, avid gamer and a science fiction fan. Corey graduated university with a history major and hoped to put it to good use, life had other plans. Wrote a blog for the gaming site Screwattack.com, between 2008-2009, and before that, writing for his high school newspaper as a political commentator as well as the newspapers chief photographer. Also writes movie reviews for Criticker.com.

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