SXSW Cancel #SavePoint and Level-Up Panels Citing “Numerous Threats of Violence”

Last week I covered the announcement of #SavePoint, a Gamergate panel discussing the gaming community at SXSW (South-by-South West). I expressing that I was cautiously optimistic about the discussion; in the same way I was encouraged by SPJ Airplay, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Gamergate ethics debate. The movement has experienced increased infighting, so this panel looked to provide a focus for this discussion.

Despite being name-dropped everywhere in the speciality press, Gamergate has, for the most part, been unable to have an open discussion of its grievances outside of the internet. Consequently, following yesterday’s cancelation of both the Gamergate panel and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games”, anti-Gamergate’s panel run by Randi Harper, this trend will persist.

Citing 'Violent Threats,' SXSW Cancels Both Pro- and Anti-Gamergate Panels

SXSW Interactive

Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive Director, released a statement on the matter, saying:

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.

The Open Gaming Society’s Founder and President, Perry Jones also issued a statement, saying:

Dear Community,

We regret to inform everyone that the panel, “#SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community”, has been cancelled by SXSW effective immediately. The event page has been removed, and our access to the session production guide has been revoked. This comes as a shock to us, but we weren’t unprepared. We’ve spoken with representatives from SXSW Gaming and they explained to us their reasoning behind the decision.

A lot has happened since we submitted the panel, and we’ve been overwhelmed with both support and disdain. However, SXSW’s team has had to bear the brunt of the backlash. They received countless emails, phone calls, tweets, and messages across all social media both praising and condemning them for #SavePoint and the Level Up panel organized by Randi Harper. SXSW explained to us that they are a very neutral organization and wanted to provide a platform for both sides to speak on and have their voices heard. “We wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before” one SXSW official said in our phone conversation earlier today. SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another. We’re all very passionate about this medium and sometimes we let that passion get the best of us – and that’s on both sides of the table. This entire thing grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that they have had to deal with – and they hosted a panel on Snowden just a few years prior. Once the SXSW director got involved it was a done deal. The SXSW Interactive and their Gaming teams came together and made the decision to cancel both panels.

While this is disheartening news there is a silver lining. The Open Gaming Society believes in open discussions and would like to announce our “Plan B.” We formed this plan almost immediately after we submitted the panel to SXSW. Though SXSW has cancelled the panel, we still plan to have a panel regardless. This has been a backup plan from square one and now we are forced to act on it. We will organize, fund, and host the panel ourselves. We plan to do so around the same time as SXSW to allow for the largest possible audience.

We are more than happy to hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions on this idea. We will also be speaking on Honey Badger Radio [edit] tomorrow at 8PM Easter(7PM Central) to discuss this in further detail.

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 “Fuck you” emails. They have enough on their plate as it is.

We look forward to providing a platform for all gamers, regardless of political affiliation, to come and voice their opinions.

Further complicating the issue, three BuzzFeed higher-ups, Ze Frank, President of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, Dao Nguyen, Publisher, and Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed,  wrote to SXSW and warned them that, should the panels remain cancelled they would pull all of their events from the festival. The message read:

Dear Hugh,

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.

We hope you will reconsider that decision, and reinstate the panels.

Digital harassment — of activists of all political stripes, journalists, and women in those fields or participating in virtually any other form of digital speech — has emerged as an urgent challenge for the tech companies for whom your conference is an important forum. Those targets of harassment, who include our journalists, do important work in spite of these threats.

BuzzFeed has participated deeply in SXSW for years, and our staffers are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW 2016. We will feel compelled to withdraw them if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day —to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.

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.

We look forward to your reply.

I am sure many in the gaming community are annoyed at this turn of events, as having both panels present at the festival would have been an excellent opportunity for an open and civil discussion of the key topics in gaming. These threats are cowardly and contemptible. I had hoped that the media would refrain from trying to pin this on Gamergate, but alas, they could not help themselves. Considering this, it is not surprising some proponents of Gamergate tweeted condemnation of the media coverage.

For the sake of clarity, the statements have been included in full.

SXSW and The Open Gaming Society have been contacted for further comment. We will update as more details become available. Jezebel managed to receive comments from the anti-Gamergate panellists and organisers, which you can view here.

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