Skip to main content

SXSW cancels Gamergate-related panels after 'threats of violence'

SXSW cancels Gamergate-related panels after 'threats of violence'

Share this story

The Gamergate controversy is causing even more problems — this time with two panels at next year's SXSW festival. Earlier today, activist and programmer Randi Harper tweeted that the organizers of SXSW had canceled a panel called "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games," presented by Harper, IBM Watson interaction designer Caroline Sinders, and writer Katherine Cross. The reason? It was drawing too many threats.

In fact, SXSW looks like it's decided to steer clear of anything potentially Gamergate-related at all. A few days ago, a group called the "Open Gaming Society" announced a panel called "A Discussion on the Gaming Community." While it wasn't promoted as a Gamergate panel, it featured speakers who had previously been affiliated with the movement, and it covered issues near to the cause, including "the current social-political climate within the gaming community" and "the importance of journalistic integrity in video game's [sic] media." That panel, however, also disappeared today.

SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest posted a statement explaining the decision soon after; it echoes an email that Harper provided The Verge.

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.

The Open Gaming Society later released its own statement, saying that conference organizers had told the group that SXSW was "a very neutral organization" and "wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before" by hosting the panel, but that the situation "grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that they have had to deal with." The group still plans to host the panel independently.

These two panels weren't the only events with an indirect connection to the controversy. Developer Brianna Wu, one of the central targets of Gamergate harassment, has two unrelated panels on the schedule — one covering virtual reality and the other women in technology. But so far, they've been unaffected. "As far as I understand it, my panels are still going forward," she tells The Verge, saying that while she still receives death threats, none have specifically involved her plans for SXSW. "I'm disappointed that SXSW isn't going to stand with [the anti-harassment] panel. I've done a lot of public speaking this year, and to date all have provided security for my programming after receiving threats. None have ever cancelled."

"Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session."

On Twitter, co-panelist Cross disputed the idea that the anti-harassment panel was going to be specifically about Gamergate. "Me and my panelists were focused on our broad, solutions-oriented talk," she wrote. "Our panel was not about [Gamergate], it was about the wider issue of harassment in the online world." Gamergate, she said, was a single case study in addressing the problem. Harper, similarly, said that the panel was about harassment at large. But Harper has also been a longtime target of Gamergate, in part because of her work on the Good Game Auto Blocker, a tool that automatically blocks Twitter accounts that follow certain Gamergate figureheads.

Motherboard previously quoted an email explaining the decision to hold Gamergate-related panels in the name of intellectual diversity. "SXSW is a big tent and we strongly believe in showcasing a very diverse range of ideas and opinions, even if we as a staff don't always agree with them," it read. "If everyone shared the same viewpoint, that would make for a pretty boring event." But there was always a high chance that anything related to Gamergate (or online harassment more generally) would draw some kind of violent backlash. A number of women involved in games criticism or online activism have seen months of persistent threats since the movement started last summer, including a shooting threat that led to the cancellation of a planned talk by feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian. Gamergate supporters, meanwhile, had an event cut short this summer after an anonymous bomb threat.

It's not clear what plans, if any, SXSW initially had for dealing with online threats. But whatever they were, its organizers ultimately decided that the rewards weren't worth the hazards. Good job, internet.

Update 7:10PM ET: Added statements from Katherine Cross and Randi Harper.

Update 10:45PM ET: Added statement from the Open Gaming Society.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 7 minutes ago Midjourneys

External Link
Russell Brandom7 minutes ago
Oracle will pay $23 million to settle foreign bribery charges.

The SEC alleges that Oracle used a slush fund to bribe officials in India, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. This behavior is sadly common among software companies doing business overseas, and it’s not unique to Oracle. In March, a former Microsoft executive claimed the company spent as much as $200 million a year in bribes for foreign officials.

External Link
Emma RothTwo hours ago
Celsius’ CEO is out.

Alex Mashinsky, the head of the bankrupt crypto lending firm Celsius, announced his resignation today, but not after patting himself on the back for working “tirelessly to help the company.”

In Mashinsky’s eyes, I guess that means designing “Unbankrupt yourself” t-shirts on Cafepress and then selling them to a user base that just had their funds vaporized.

At least customers of the embattled Voyager Digital crypto firm are in slightly better shape, as the Sam Bankman-Fried-owned FTX just bought out the company’s assets.

Mary Beth Griggs2:46 PM UTC
NASA’s SLS rocket is secure as Hurricane Ian barrels towards Florida.

The rocket — and the Orion spacecraft on top — are now back inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building. Facing menacing forecasts, NASA decided to roll it away from the launchpad yesterday.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins1:30 PM UTC
Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle brand is about to go public via SPAC

LiveWire has completed its merger with a blank-check company and will make its debut on the New York Stock Exchange today. Harley-Davison CEO Jochen Zeitz called it “a proud and exciting milestone for LiveWire towards its ambition to become the most desirable electric motorcycle brand in the world.” Hopefully it also manages to avoid the cash crunch of other EV SPACs, like Canoo, Arrival, Faraday Future, and Lordstown.

The Verge
Andrew Webster1:06 PM UTC
“There’s an endless array of drama going on surrounding Twitch right now.”

That’s Ryan Morrison, CEO of Evolved Talent Agency, which represents some of the biggest streamers around. And he’s right — as you can read in this investigation from my colleague Ash Parrish, who looked into just what’s going on with Amazon’s livestreaming service.

The Verge
Richard Lawler12:59 PM UTC
Green light.

NASA’s spacecraft crashed, and everyone is very happy about it.

Otherwise, Mitchell Clark is kicking off the day with a deeper look at Dish Network’s definitely-real 5G wireless service , and Walmart’s metaverse vision in Roblox is not looking good at all.

External Link
Jess Weatherbed11:49 AM UTC
Won’t anyone think of the billionaires?

Forbes reports that rising inflation and falling stock prices have collectively cost members of the Forbes 400 US rich list $500 billion in 2022 with tech tycoons suffering the biggest losses.

Jeff Bezos (worth $151 billion) lost $50 billion, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin (worth a collective $182b) lost almost $60b, Mark Zuckerberg (worth $57.7b) lost $76.8b, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (worth $4.5b) lost $10.4b. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (worth $83b) lost $13.5b while his ex-boss Bill Gates (worth $106b) lost $28b, albeit $20b of that via charity donations.

Thomas Ricker6:45 AM UTC
Check out this delightful DART Easter egg.

Just Google for “NASA DART.” You’re welcome.