SXSW Apologizes for Canceling Panels, Plans Online Harassment Summit

SXSW Austin H 2015

BuzzFeed and Vox Media threatened to withdraw from the annual technology confab after organizers canceled two panels about harassment in the gaming community.

SXSW Interactive is backtracking on its decision to cancel two controversial panels during its 2016 conference that planned to cover online harassment in the gaming community, known as Gamergate. Organizers of the annual technology, film and music confab on Friday apologized for canceling the panels and announced plans for a one-day Online Harassment Summit during the festival. 

"Earlier this week we made a mistake," event organizers wrote in a blog post. "By canceling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry." 

On Oct. 26, SXSW Interactive scrapped the scrap the panels — one of which was going to address overcoming harassment in games and the other of which featured vocal Gamergate personalities — after organizers received numerous threats of on-site violence during the event. "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," director Hugh Forrest said in a statement at the time.

But the decision to cancel the panels drew backlash from the panelists and other SXSW participants including BuzzFeed and Vox Media, which both threatened to boycott the event if the panels were not reinstated. SXSW responded to the response by saying that it was working with local law enforcement to asses the threats. 

Now, SXSW is planning a day of programming dedicated to the topic. The Online Harassment Summit will take place on March 12, during the festival, and will feature many of the speakers who were supposed to be a part of the original panels. "It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address," says the blog post. 

Gamergate became a hot-button topic last year after several prominent women in the gaming community spoke out about harassment they claim they've been subjected to. The term has since come to encompass the treatment of women in the gaming industry and, more broadly, ethics in gaming.