Technology

SXSW 'considers rethink' over GamerGate-linked events

SXSW Interactive Image copyright SXSW Interactive
Image caption The festival's director said "numerous" threats had been received, leading to the original cancellation

The South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival is reportedly considering holding an all-day event on online harassment.

Event organisers had been criticised after cancelling two gaming panels, citing "numerous threats of on-site violence".

One panel would have focused on gaming journalism integrity. The other would have looked at harassment in gaming.

It follows the GamerGate row, which was associated by some with the harassment of female game developers.

However, supporters of the GamerGate campaign suggest they themselves became the victims of abuse after they tried to highlight conflicts of interest in the video games industry.

Boycotts

On Wednesday, citing unnamed sources, the technology news website Recode reported that the festival was considering a rethink under pressure from Buzzfeed and the Recode and the Verge publisher Vox Media, which both threatened boycotts.

Recode said an official announcement could come by the end of the week. A SXSW spokesman has not responded to a request for comment.

The cancelled events were due to be held at the SXSW Interactive festival, which focuses on emerging technology. They were pulled on Monday with the festival's director Hugh Forrest citing the threats.

The following day, Buzzfeed and Vox Media called for both panels to be reinstated.

"We will feel compelled to withdraw [our staff] 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," Buzzfeed's senior executives wrote in an email to Forrest.

In a statement, Vox Media said: "We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them."

'Numerous threats'

In a statement released on Monday, Forrest had written: "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."

He added that the festival "prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas".

But, he wrote, "preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people cannot 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".

The festival's organisers have not released any further details about the alleged threats.

'Abuse'

The cancelled panels were named "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games". The former was to discuss the "social/political landscape in the gaming community [and] the journalistic integrity of gaming's journalists", among other subjects. The latter was focussed on "data around abuse in larger gaming communities" and other related topics.

Neither panel was explicitly linked to GamerGate - the online movement that proponents say centres on journalistic ethics and opponents characterise as promoting misogynistic abuse - in its official description on the SXSW sites. Each, however, was due to focus on issues and topics often associated with one side of the row.

SavePoint was due to feature prominent GamerGate supporters and its organisers had previously referred to setting up a GamerGate-linked panel at the festival. Some of the panellists and the organiser of Level Up said that, while they would not be the primary focus, the allegations of harassment levelled at GamerGate supporters were among the topics likely to be discussed.

'Under siege'

In a post on its own website, the organiser of SavePoint, the Open Gaming Society, wrote that it planned to hold its panel discussion by other means.

"We will organise, fund, and host the panel ourselves. We plan to do so around the same time as SXSW to allow for the largest possible audience," the post read.

It added that "SXSW feels that both the organisation 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".

One of the planned Level Up panellists Randi Harper tweeted that concerns had been privately expressed about their safety but that they did not "demand that the GamerGate panel get removed from the schedule. We just asked that safety precautions be taken".

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