Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA), a member of Congress who's previously pushed for greater scrutiny of online threats and harassment, has asked SXSW to reinstate an anti-harassment panel that was canceled yesterday. In a letter addressed to SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest and posted to Facebook, Clark wrote that by choosing to shut down the panel in order to avoid threats of violence, the festival failed to provide the diverse "big tent" it had promised.
"Our message to targets of online threats and harassment should not be that the internet is closed to their voices," wrote Clark. "It should be that we stand behind them and will not tolerate any online abuse or violence that jeopardizes their opportunities in a world that is increasingly online." Clark is not the first to speak up against the decision, although notably, she only mentions one of the two panels involved — there's no reference to the planned "discussion on the gaming community" that was also canceled. BuzzFeed has threatened to withdraw from the show if SXSW does not reinstate both panels, and Verge parent company Vox Media also plans to withdraw if the festival doesn't address harassment issues.
"We should be amplifying the voices of those willing to speak up, not capitulating to the harassers."
Clark's full letter is below.
I am writing to urge you to reconsider your decision to cancel a panel addressing online harassment and threats, a problem that disproportionately impacts women and girls. The brave women who were part of this panel are ready to speak out about the importance of combatting online threats despite being targets themselves. By canceling the panel, SXSW has assisted those who wish to silence women by threatening violence.
For the millions of women and girls who use the internet every day to navigate their jobs and personal lives, online violence is not only emotionally devastating; it also curtails their professional opportunities and their full participation in the economy. We should be amplifying the voices of those willing to speak up, not capitulating to the harassers.
I urge you to consider the impact of this decision, how it relates to the future of digital media, its economic promise, and our collective obligation to ensure equal participation in it. Our message to targets of online threats and harassment should not be that the internet is closed to their voices. It should be that we stand behind them and will not tolerate any online abuse or violence that jeopardizes their opportunities in a world that is increasingly online.
In your statement announcing your decision, you wrote, "SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas." In order to live up to that, you have a professional and moral obligation to ensure that SXSW remains open to everyone and that you do not reinforce the objectives of those who use criminal behavior to undermine the ability of those with a different opinion to participate. I hope that you will immediately reconsider your decision.