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SXSW cancels gaming panels after threats

Update: Buzzfeed threatens to pull out unless panels reinstated

Update

Following uproar on social media and threats from both Buzzfeed and Vox Media to withdraw from SXSW Interactive the event organisers have released a vague statement that could mean the sessions stand a chance of being reinstated.

"We want the SXSW community to know that we hear and understand your frustrations and concerns about the recent cancellation of two SXSW Gaming panels.

The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.

Moving forward, we are also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved. We will provide more information soon."

Update

Modern media empire Buzzfeed has entered the SXSW Interactive controversy, threatening to withdraw from the event unless the panels are allowed to take place.

"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," said a letter to SXSW Interactive from Buzzfeed bosses Ze Frank, Dao Nguyen and Ben Smith.

"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."

Vox Media, home of Polygon and The Verge has now also threatened to withdraw from SXSW Interactive.

"By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today. We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them. Vox Media will not be participating in this year's festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us."

Reports are also coming out that SXSW's behaviour concerning the two panels has been either suspect or clueless from early on.

SXSW Interactive has yet to respond to the drama that has followed its initial cancellation announcement.

Original story

SXSW Interactive has chosen to cancel two gaming sessions, "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games," at its March 2016 event after it received threats of violence.

SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest gave the following statement:

"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 move has been met with anger and disappointment on Twitter.

SavePoint - A Discussion on the Gaming Community was to be presented by journalist Lynn Walsh, adult entertainer, Gamergate supporter and activist Mercedes Carrera, Pixel Metal's Nick Robalik and founder of The Open Gaming Society Perry Jones.

"The panel will focus heavily on discussions regarding the current social/political landscape in the gaming community, the journalistic integrity of gaming's journalists, and the ever-changing gaming community, video game development, and their future."

Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games would have featured journalist and sociologist Katherine Cross, IBM Watson designer Caroline Sinders and Randi Harper of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.

"A panel from experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture, how to combat it, how to design against it, and how to create online communities that are moving away from harassment."

“I'm not shocked by [SXSW's] reaction because it is the reaction of people who have never had to deal with this,” Sinders told Motherboard.

“We are disheartened and we are sad, but it is something where this is one of the first times SXSW has gone through this and there isn't a guidebook for these things-but maybe there needs to start being one.”

In an email to Harper SXSW organisers explained it was cancelling panels "focused on the Gamergate controversy" to protect "the sanctity of the big tent."

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Latest comments (15)

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.3 years ago
At some point, you have to stand up to the idle threats and maintain the course. Otherwise, anyone that has a dissenting view point can make a threat and stop your panel. Actual violence wasn't the intention but shutting down your panel was. And they are succeeding.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend3 years ago
More idle threats by teenagers taken as grave danger when in reality they wouldn't say boo to you if approached in person. #fearofeverything

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 27th October 2015 8:27am

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany3 years ago
So, some people wanted to make a panel regarding "Overcoming Harassment in Games" and some butthurt "gamers" decided to use harassment and threats because they think the first ones are lying... Because that makes so much sense.

That instance of cancelling panels "focused on the Gamergate controversy" to protect "the sanctity of the big tent." is what disappoints me the most. Seeing how we still believe that if you close your eyes the dragon disappears. I'm not going to even start about putting a GamerGate-afiliated panel to the same level as the other one.

@Jim: Exactly. Each time we give up to those idiots' rants and verbal puke we are telling them that they are the ones making the rules, and that can never be the case.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 27th October 2015 8:42am

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Show all comments (15)
Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
Bit confused by this tbh. Nobody can be that naive to not know that if you poke a hornets nest then hornets are going to come out.

If they believe strongly enough that bullying needs to be tackled and they want to give it a platform then bravo, do that. If they don't want the hassle then that's understandable too. But how can you announce something like this and then let bullys force you to u-turn? That's just weird.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 3 years ago
This period of history will be known as a time when the world was held hostage by 14-year-olds misbehaving on the Internet.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend3 years ago
But how can you announce something like this and then let bullys force you to u-turn? That's just weird.
I suppose because its all about continuing the narrative that 'internet bullies forced talk pullout', not about actually talking things through.
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@Paul very well put, deserves a tweet I think
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 3 years ago
@John
Are you sure it was the pro gamer gate people who threatened the violence?
Considering two pro-GG events have had bomb threats and zero anti-GG ones have, I wouldn't be surprised at all if it were the anti's causing trouble again.

That being said, I'm glad they're pulling them both instead of singling out one or the other.

EDIT:
It's also worth pointing out that in the wake of this event, a massive number of articles on various sites (mostly pushing the same narrative) all went up at roughly the same time. Sound familiar?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Watson on 27th October 2015 7:39pm

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 3 years ago
I still just don't see how you can be "pro" or "anti" a hashtag that anyone can use, to say whatever they like.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
Yeesh. The SXSW organizers need to go read a damn history book on the civil rights movement or maybe give the honorable John Lewis a phone call. You march and fight, not cower and lose face. The modern jerky teens/adults who need to grow the hell up types who pull these threats aren't leaving their homes to go all the way out to wherever to muck up some entertainment event and/or any side events like these two conferences (which are probably more important than the event itself) that take place.

What really needs to be learned is how to stand up and deal with these internet dopes and yeah, that should include exposing them to whatever can be done legally to them for this constant disruption. As for Buzzfeed? Bleh. Who cares what they do if all they're doing is more or less threatening SXSW in their own way. The seem to be saying "If we're not there, your show will FAIL", which is a big joke no matter how popular that silly click-bait site is these days.
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Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive3 years ago
First, let me say, I think there is a problem with toxic posts on game threads. Threats of violence is asinine super-noob stuff. Ditto for misogyny and racism. Though not too surprising since the gaming community has more narcissists and sociopaths per capita than society at large. Too, the demographics have been changing to 51% women, average age 34-39 and more seniors than males 18 and under. We're grown ups now. Well, most of us.

That said, as a 20+ year game maker, a SXSW early adopter/participant from back in the 80's and a casual, sometimes Buzzfeed reader, I could care less what Buzzfeed thinks about anything, ever. It is "Jane magazine" for the web that puts pieces on the evils of fat shaming women next to a piece on hot male models that will "make you thirsty". Their deep content either picks a fight between nations by making fun of non-British cultures or "quizzes" that produce sellable marketing data. They consistently have some of the poorest quality game journalism I've ever read. Just laughable. The headlines are written to troll and the Onion parody nailed them on it. If we can get them to stay home (in NY and London) and take those jerks from the Chive with them, we all win. Austin was a better place without them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Al Nelson on 27th October 2015 7:23pm

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Rachel Weber Senior Editor, GamesIndustry.biz3 years ago
Hi Andrew,

"It's also worth pointing out that in the wake of this event, a massive number of articles on various sites (mostly pushing the same narrative) all went up at roughly the same time. Sound familiar?"

That would be because SXSW made an official announcement, then people reported on it as soon as they could. Thanks for the conspiracy theory though, it's been too long since we had one of those in the comments!
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 3 years ago
conspiracy theory
It's not a conspiracy theory when these are the same sites that posted those "gamers are dead" articles a year and a bit ago that set this whole thing off, and have a vested interest in shutting down any GG related events as soon as they can. Why is it bad to be skeptical?

I'm curious what the pro-GG crowd would even say at this SXSW event had it gone forward, just to see what everyone's so terrified of. What do they think will happen, someone walking on stage and screaming about how evil women are? It's not a debate if only one side gets to speak.
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"It's not a conspiracy theory when these are the same sites that posted those "gamers are dead" articles a year and a bit ago that set this whole thing off, and have a vested interest in shutting down any GG related events as soon as they can. Why is it bad to be skeptical?"

@Andrew you're right that in theory it's possible a group of journalists/activists got in cahoots to shut down a conference through terrorism and then go wide with the story, all to blacken the names of their perceived enemies... on twitter.

On the other hand, perhaps the reason those sites reported this story is because it's one of the subjects they care about and so thought the shut down was newsworthy.

Generally, if we ignore the much more obvious and reasonable interpretation of an event in favour of the dastardly fantastically OTT evidence-free version... we're walking into conspiracy.

To me being rational means you always follow evidence, and always draw the simplest of conclusions from it. Where there is no evidence, you admit you don't know. Inserting assumptions is always bad, wrapped as they are in your own worldview/experience/bias/mood that day. Scepticism requires rigour, it's not mindlessly kicking against accepted theory for the sake of it.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd3 years ago
It's a bit odd that if the threat of violence did actually come from the gamer gate side then the pro-gamergate talk would be the one to be shutdown.
There aren't two 'sides'.
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