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SXSW harassment panelist says the festival never took harassment seriously

The fallout from SXSW's decision to cancel a pair of Gamergate-related panels after "threats of on-site violence" continues, with those involved now explaining how the festival itself failed to take the harassment seriously. Writing for Slate, designer Caroline Sinders — an organizer for one of the canceled panels, "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" — says representatives for SXSW ignored issues of security and instead stressed the festival's desire to showcase "a very diverse range of ideas and opinions."

SXSW ignored questions about security at the festival

Sinders reports an email exchange with two representatives from the festival, asking them if security will be present at the panel to "to make sure that our talk does not get derailed, which has happened in the past, particularly around the topics of harassment and gaming." She adds: "We want to keep this panel on topic, and we'd like the ability for security to intervene should it get hostile." The representatives did not respond, and Sinders says she heard nothing from the festival until receiving the news that her panel was canceled. This was despite earlier emails in which Sinders explained why Gamergate supporters might want to derail the event.

Journalist Leigh Alexander, who was not scheduled to speak at SXSW but was approached by the festival to help them assemble a "Gamergate panel," reports a similar unresponsiveness from officials. "Even before the controversy erupted, conference organizers barely paid attention to the warning signs, and refused to intervene," Alexander writes at Wired. She describes the festival's "cluelessness" as "so severe as to seem willful," and adds that the problem of failing to take these sorts of campaigns of harassment seriously is not limited to SXSW.

"Our experience doesn’t matter to them; what does is our presence."

"Technology events continue to invite us to appear on panels and roundtables — to donate our time, effort and expertise, and sometimes even risk our own safety — but they have not listened to us on a basic level," writes Alexander. "Our experience doesn’t matter to them; what does is our presence."

Since canceling the panels, SXSW has been criticized by media organizations including BuzzFeed and The Verge's parent company Vox Media. In a statement from Vox Media, the company outlined its objection to SXSW's behavior: "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." There are reports that the festival is now considering hosting an all-day event focusing on combating online harassment.