Hugh Forrest, director of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, admitted Friday that he was wrong for canceling two panels about online harassment in the gaming community and will compensate by having a full-day summit on the matter.
SXSW planned two panels about harassment in gaming and the integrity of video game journalism, but canceled them after receiving violent threats from Gamergate supporters. The Gamergate controversy involves the cultural identity of a gamer, sexism in the video game industry and ethical standards of video game journalism.
While it is good that Forrest acknowledged his mistake, the way the matter has been handled is wrong.
After the announcement, the Los Angeles Times reported media outlets Buzzfeed and Vox Media threatened to boycott the festival. Buzzfeed released a statement on its site, pointing out to Forrest the irony of panels about online harassment being canceled because of that harassment.
The statement read, “We were disturbed to learn yesterday that you canceled two panels, including one on harassment in gaming, in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight.”
SXSW released a statement the following Friday saying the events were canceled “in the interest of safety for all of our attendees” and included a list of speakers for the newly scheduled summit. While this may seem like an appropriate response at first, the list of speakers included pro-Gamergate people who feel the online gaming community is being ruined by being inclusive.
If SXSW is truly concerned about the safety of the attendees, it should not have included those people in the discussion. Doing so validates their abusive opinions.
The Huffington Post reported Randy Lee Harper, founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, worried about her safety. She said in a tweet, “No one would say abusers should be allowed to debate those they abused. This shows SXSW does not understand online harassment.”
It is bad enough that SXSW gave into the threats of violence and canceled the panels instead of finding a different way to handle the situation. By giving pro-Gamergate speakers a platform to easily target individuals, SXSW is making the situation worse.
Having these people will hinder any progress the summit hopes to achieve. SXSW should remove those speakers from the summit, and let the speakers who are trying to find solutions to online harassment have a place to discuss ideas without needing to fear for their safety.