Austin, Texas-based music, art, film, and tech festival SXSW Interactive is at the heart of a growing controversy over online harassment as it pertains to the gaming community.
The festival announced on Monday evening that it would cancel two panels — titled “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” — amid ongoing “threats of on-site violence.”
In response, BuzzFeed is threatening to withdraw its staffers who “are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW 2016,” according to a letter co-written by Ze Frank, president of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures, Dao Nguyen, Buzzfeed’s publisher, and Ben Smith, the publication’s editor-in-chief.
It’s unclear what SXSW’s response is to the letter thus far; SXSW Interactive reps didn’t respond to our request for comment as of publishing.
The letter from BuzzFeed points out a contention at the heart of SXSW’s action in cancelling the two panels. “We were disturbed to learn yesterday that you canceled two panels, including one on harassment in gaming, in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight,” the letter says.
This is spot-on — cancelling panels meant to discuss harassment due to threats of violence is exactly what the panels intended to combat. Despite this contradiction, the organiser of one of the two canceled panels, Perry Jones, pleaded for those on both sides of the discussion to not go after SXSW management in light of the cancellation:
One final note to everyone, GamerGate, anti-GamerGate, and everything in-between: Don’t attack SXSW for this. They did what they felt was best for their team(s). They have a massive event to plan that literally encompasses all of downtown Austin and consists of 3 major festivals. The last thing they need is for two panels (on a major topic) to absorb all of their time and resources. I know all of you, on both sides, must be incredibly upset that this has happened, but take our honest advice; Step away from your computers/phones for a moment. Go outside and take a breather, play a video game that calms your nerves, pet your cat or dog, and spend some time thinking. Don’t let that anger and unrest plant itself in you — it will only ripen into hatred and lead you to say things you could someday regret. Let’s all be calm and civil about this. Don’t flood SXSW’s inbox with “F— you” emails. They have enough on their plate as it is.
The two canceled panels sought to discuss the gaming community and harassment in said community, two topics that became prominent and controversial last year in light of the “GamerGate” movement. The topics remain flash points in the gaming world, inspiring often passionate, sometimes vitriolic debate from both sides of the discussion.
BuzzFeed’s letter points out that the decision to pull out of SXSW 2016 is far from final on its part. If SXSW were to reinstate the panels it canceled amid threats of violence, BuzzFeed says it would rejoin the festival.
“Fortunately, the conference is five months away. We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then, and our security staff would be happy to advise on those measures,” the letter says.
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