Controversies

SXSW Apologizes for Canceling Two Gamer Panels, Will Create an Online Harassment Summit

SXSW Apologizes for Canceling Two Gamer Panels, Will Create an Online Harassment Summit
Image credit: SXSW | Enhanced by Entrepreneur

Earlier this week SXSW Interactive, the technology component of the annual Austin, Texas-based festival, abruptly announced that it had cancelled two gamer panels due to "numerous threats of on-site violence."

Today Hugh Forrest, the event's director, publicly apologized for that decision and announced the creation of a day-long online harassment summit to take place alongside SXSW 2016.

"We made a mistake," he said in a statement. "By canceling 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 panels were dropped thanks to Gamergate, an online movement that officially promotes ethics in video-game journalism but is better-known for its vicious online trolling and harassment of its opponents. While neither of the panels – one was affiliated with Gamergate, the other was to be discussion of online harassment -- explicitly mentioned Gamergate, both were slated to discuss Gamergate-adjacent topics from opposing sides of the issue.

Explaining his initial decision to cancel both panels, Forrest said at the time that "maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session."

Related: SXSW Festival Cancels Gamer Panels After Threats of Violence

The backlash was swift; Speakers on the cancelled online harassment panel took to Twitter to voice displeasure.

The next day, BuzzFeed and Vox Media pulled out of SXSW in response to the cancellations, while media outlets criticized the festival for failing to promote diversity and stand up to harassment.

"The resulting feedback from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear," Forrest said. "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."

The two cancelled panels will not be reinstated into SXSW itself, but instead speakers from both panels will be invited to "expand the conversation" at the day-long summit.

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

Related: Twitter Is Bleeding Users Because 'We Suck at Dealing With Abuse and Trolls'