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SXSW Cancels Panels on Harassment in Gaming Following Harrassment, BuzzFeed Threatens Boycott

Video gamers
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Attendees play the new video game "Transformers Fall of Cybertron" at the Activision booth during the E3 gaming conference on June 5, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. 

"This entire thing grew out of control very quickly," said the organizer of one of the canceled panels.

SXSW is dealing with increased backlash following its decision to cancel two panels about harassment in the gaming community after organizers were targeted with threats of on-site disruption and violence.

In a statement released Monday 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.

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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."

In response to the move, BuzzFeed sent SXSW director Hugh Forrest a letter threatening to terminate the site's involvement if the decision is not reversed. The letter, signed by BuzzFeed Motion Pictures president Ze Frank, publisher Dao Nguyen, and editor-in-chief Ben Smith, noted that Buzzfeed staffers are set to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels this year.

"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," the letter states. "We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event."

The Open Gaming Society, which organized the “Save Point” panel, released a statement following the cancelation.

“This entire thing grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that they have had to deal with – and they hosted a panel on Snowden just a few years prior,” the group’s founder and president Perry Jones said. “Once the SXSW director got involved it was a done deal. The SXSW Interactive and their Gaming teams came together and made the decision to cancel both panels.”

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. 

“Level Up” panelist Katherine Cross told gamer site Giant Bomb that it was “unfortunate” of SXSW to tie the panel to Gamergate. “We did not mention GG in the proposal nor in the actual text of the panel description,” Cross said. “GG is but one of many manifestations of online harassment and we did not want to get myopically bogged down in one case study, nor in relitigating its specifics. We wanted to discuss the wider problem and solutions thereto.”


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