The Guardian reports South By Southwest, that convergence of all things indie and corporate held in Austin every year, has canceled two panels over safety concerns. SXSW’s Interactive Director, Hugh Forrest, released a statement indicating that the festival organizers received “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.” Forrest didn’t state whom the threats were directed at, but it seems the festival thought it best to preemptively end the discussion so it wouldn’t get out of hand.
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.
So, what kind of content has provoked the threats and subsequent cancellations (as well as the inevitable backlash to said cancellations)? And what exactly were people planning to talk about that raised the dread Gamergate specter? Well, the two panels in question were “SavePoint: A Discussion On The Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment In Gaming.” SXSW has already removed both entries from their site, but The New York Times managed to dig up the cached versions.
SavePoint, which was organized by The Open Gaming Society, would have focused “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.” And Level Up would have featured “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.”
For its part, The Open Gaming Society released a statement asking for cooler heads to prevail, but didn’t claim it had received any threats. And Level Up organizer Randi Harper made it clear that while she’s received many threats for just being online, no one on her panel had called for the removal of SavePoint. Harper shared the depressing reality that all of the panelists had received threats at some point, so any safety concerns that were raised would have just been sad par for the sexist course.
Of course, this still doesn’t tell us who was threatened and by whom, or if it indeed had anything to do with That Thing That Must Not Be Named, so we guess we can just count on people being shitty and unreasonable even over attempts at rational discussion. But at least SXSW attendees can still look forward to those McDonald’s pitch meetings for thoughtful discourse.