A South by Southwest Interactive panel scheduled for March 2016 called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” has been canceled, with the panelists saying they were told by SXSW organizers it was due to “numerous threats of violence.” A panel featuring pro-Gamergate speakers has also disappeared from the schedule. SXSW has released a statement confirming both events were canceled.

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Randi Lee Harper, Caroline Sinders, and Katherine Cross have all written and spoken about online harassment. Gamergate supporters were unhappy to learn that panelists were trying to garner votes for their panel through SXSW’s “Panelpicker” interactive voting service.

Harper tells Jezebel their panel was indeed chosen and scheduled, but that on Monday they were informed it was being canceled:

In an email, Harper shared with us part of the text of the email she says she and other panelists received. (She didn’t share the full email, saying “other panels might be impacted” as well, and that she didn’t want to share that information until it was confirmed.) Here’s what she sent us:

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This email serves as notice that SXSW Interactive has made the decision to cancel the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” session for March 2016 in Austin.

On the one hand, we are an event that prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.

On the other hand, preserving the sanctity of that big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful — so that people can agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place.

We have already received numerous threats of violence regarding this panel, so a civil and respectful environment seems unlikely in March in Austin. We are strong believers in community at SXSW — and a healthy community sometimes requires strong management. Preserving the sanctity of the big tent is more important than preserving any particular session.

Harper says that all the panelists are familiar with receiving threats and had been working with SXSW staff on safety. “We had been participating in an email discussion with SXSW about safety for our panelists. They seemed unconcerned at the time, so this was surprising.”

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Katherine Cross tell us she is “bitterly disappointed” that the panel is being canceled. She writes:

SXSW showcases innovation in technology and we were excited to talk about some of the positive ways that online harassment is being addressed and countered, as well as what could be done next. Ours was a constructive, forward looking panel meant to demonstrate that there are both technical an social solutions to a problem that many feel is an inevitable curse in our society.

Cross adds, too, that the panel wasn’t intended to focus on Gamergate specifically:

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I’d also add that contrary to the assertion made by SXSW in the email they sent Caroline, our panel was not about GamerGate. It was about the wider problem of online harassment. As someone who researches this issue and advocates around it, I believe it’s important to not become too myopic in focusing on a specific case of abuse as that can obscure the larger, structural issues at work. I know Caroline and Randi share my thinking on that matter.

Earlier this week, Vice’s Motherboard blog reported that a panel called “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” had also been added to the agenda. It was to feature Nick Robalik and Perry Jones, both pro-Gamergate game developers, Mercedes Carrera, an adult film star who has become a vocal Gamergate supporter, and Lynn Walsh, an NBC producer and the president-elect for the Society of Professional Journalists, who appeared at a previous Gamergate gathering which organizers claimed had to be cancelled midway through the event due to bomb threats.

The SavePoint panel is no longer on the SXSW site, although a cached version of the page is still visible. The organization Jones founded, the Open Gaming Society, tweeted this evening that they’ll be releasing information on the panel later tonight:

Cross tells Jezebel that the online harassment panelists weren’t deterred by the pro-Gamergate panel, nor did they feel like the two couldn’t co-exist:

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We were quite prepared to attend the conference whether or not they were there, provided there were appropriate security measures in place. Regardless of what they had to say, I feel like our solutions-focused panel would’ve been a great addition to the lineup and that’s what we were focused on.

SXSW organizers haven’t responded to numerous requests for comment, nor have the SavePoint panelists we reached out to.

However, SXSW organizer Hugh Forrest posted a statement Monday night around 6:20 confirming the two panels were both canceled. It reads, in full:

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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.


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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