SXSW Has Cancelled Anti- and Pro-Gamergate Panels Due to Threats of Violence

SXSW has made the decision to cancel two separate panels featuring pro-Gamergate and anti-Gamergate speakers, with the festival citing “numerous threats of violence” as the reasoning behind their actions.

The panels “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” were to feature prominent speakers from both sides of the Gamergate debate, including the founder of the Online Abuse Preventation Initiative Randi Lee Harper for the former, and The Open Gaming Society’s founder Perry Jones for the latter.

A statement posted by SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest reads: 

On Monday, October 26, SXSW Interactive made the call to cancel two sessions for the 2016 event: “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic.

However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.

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.

Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.

No matter your stance on Gamergate, it’s disappointing to see open discussions such as these being shut down by online threats, and SXSW’s decision to cancel both of these events due to these threats has now shown that the festival’s organizers are willing to back down under pressure, effectively ensuring that those wishing to shut down these discussions now know exactly how to do so in the future. 

The Open Gaming Society have revealed their conversation with SXSW’s organizers prior to the cancellation of both events, releasing a statement that reads:

SXSW explained to us that they are a very neutral organization and wanted to provide a platform for both sides to speak on and have their voices heard. “We wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before” one SXSW official said in our phone conversation earlier today.

SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another. We’re all very passionate about this medium and sometimes we let that passion get the best of us – and that’s on both sides of the table.

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 [Edward] Snowden just a few years prior. 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.

It’s unclear who was administering the threats to SXSW, but this kind of behavior shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Gamergate since its inception last year, with both pro- and anti-Gamergate supporters regularly claiming that they’ve been harassed by those occupying the other side of the debate.

In October 2014 Feminist Frequency host Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent target of Gamergate’s ire, cancelled a talk at Utah State University after the establishment was threatened with the “deadliest school shooting in US history” if she was allowed to speak there, while a Gamergate gathering in Washington D.C. was subjected to a bomb threat that forced speakers such as journalist Milo Yiannopoulos and author Christina Sommers to be removed from the building in which it was taking place. 

It’s sad that this kind of online reaction is now becoming par for the course when panels such as these are announced, and it’s disheartening to see SXSW cave into the demands of lowly Internet dwellers, who are so enraged by people having a differing opinion to their own that they stifle open discussions by issuing threats of violence. If you think your opponents are wrong, then surely the best course of action would be to allow them to speak for themselves, in order for others to make up their own minds, too? This kind of response ultimately serves to help no one.