October 27, 2015 Last Updated 12:29 pm

BuzzFeed and Vox threaten SXSW exit over cancellation of harassment panels

Gaming panels are cancelled after event organizers received threats of on-site violence related to the panels, BuzzFeed pulls out of SXSW in response

The South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin has cancelled two panels scheduled for next March’s events after receiving threats of violence themselves after the panels were announced. The two panels were SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community and Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games

SXSW-logo-2016“SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas,” wrote Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive Director.

“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.”

Reaction is what one might expect, with many disappointed that the event would be so easily deterred from hosting a panel.

“I’ve been receiving constant threats for a little over a year now,” wrote Randi Harper on Twitter. “SXSW dealt with it for a week.”

Update: SXSW has added a day-long summit – see story here.

BuzzFeed, as a result of the cancelled panels, has pulled out of SXSW.

“We will feel compelled to withdraw … 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,” BuzzFeed executives wrote in a letter.

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.

We hope you will reconsider that decision, and reinstate the 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.

BuzzFeed has participated deeply in SXSW for years, and our staffers are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW 2016. 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. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.

Fortunately, the conference is five months away. We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then, and our security staff would be happy to advise on those measures.

We look forward to your reply.

Ze Frank
BuzzFeed Motion Pictures

Dao Nguyen

Ben Smith

Update: Vox Media has decided it, too, will not participate in SXSW due to the cancelation of the two game harassment panels:

Harassment is an issue Vox Media takes extremely seriously. As a digital media company, our journalists often face online harassment and find themselves on the receiving end of threats. We support our staff when they encounter this kind of abuse while continuing to do the work that can result in it, and want to continue an open dialogue about how best to do so.

By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today. We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them. Vox Media will not be participating in this year’s festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us.

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