SXSW Cancels Panels on Gaming Harassment Due to Threats of Violence

SXSW Austin H 2015

BuzzFeed threatens to withdraw from SXSW Interactive, which takes place in March next year, after organizers scrapped the sessions following "threats of on-site violence."

Two SXSW Interactive 2016 panels set to discuss harassment in the gaming community have been canceled after the organizers themselves were subject to online harassment and threats of violence.

In a statement released on its website, SXSW Interactive said that the sessions for the 2016 edition, "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games," had been scrapped after "numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming" were received.

The statement added: "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."

BuzzFeed has threatened to withdraw its participation in the annual conference following the panels' cancelations, as the media company is currently set to speak on or moderate a half-dozen 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," writes BuzzFeed's Ze Frank, Dao Nguyen and Ben Smith in a joint statement. "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."

Vox Media has since followed suit sharing the following statement: "By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today. ... We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us."

Online harassment in the gaming community, dubbed Gamergate, has been an incendiary issue over the last few years, with prominent female game developers, writers and feminist critics ferociously targeted online with harassment, doxing and death threats. Much of the harassment has been coordinated on forums such as 4chan and 8chan by people who feel there has been an imposition of progressivism and political correctness in video games. 

Oct. 27, 9:15 a.m. Updated with BuzzFeed's statement.
Oct 27, 3 p.m. Updated with Vox's statement.