Nice one, SXSW. Way to promote irony.
Next year’s SXSW Interactive looked to be shaping up quite nicely. With some featured speakers like Jim Bankoff (Vox Media) and Pete Cashmore (Mashable Inc), the focus was on social developments and progress into the future. Which is what SXSW is supposed to be about. That’s what keeps an Evil Genius like me interested.
However, there was another topic of interest. In fact, two panels.
- “SavePoint – A Discussion on the Gaming Community”
- “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games”
These two panels share a common theme that still needs to be addressed. While both panels were to address the broader issues of online harassment, it would be pretty naive to assume neither were influenced by the whole Gamergate thing. Either way, online bullying and harassment and downright dick behaviour is still an issue.
Thus, the irony – both panels have been cancelled in response to harassing emails, including death threats and violence. Hugh Forrest (SXSW Interactive Director) stated quite clearly the reason for cancellation being “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.”
This is a tough one. Earlier this year, Supanova (Australia) faced a similar scenario regarding one of their guests, Adam Baldwin. Thousands of petitioners asked Supanova to reconsider Baldwin’s invite – not just because of his downright offensive comments during Gamergate, but his regular inflammatory comments on social media regarding women, transgender people, and gay people. Supanova chose to continue with his attendance, which was not without consequence. The Ledger Awards stopped accepting sponsorship from Supanova; Comedian Kirsty Mac pulled out (and received a bunch of harassment for it); Even popular cosplayer Eve Beauregard declined to attend (love her cosplay work – such a shame to miss her). I can tell you right now – it was a long and detailed discussion in the EG Lair as to whether we attended.
SXSW has taken a different approach – they have responded to threats / harassment by removing the panels. Wrong response, silly minions. SXSW has just allowed the harassers to be louder than the community trying to resolve the issue. In the same manner Supanova allowed Baldwin to maintain his voice, SXSW has now removed the panelists who were openly discussing the perils of online harassment. Silence against the harassers is the same as complying. Or in the words of Matilda, if you don’t speak up then you’re saying it’s okay – “and that’s not right.”
SXSW is facing its own backlash now – Vox Media and BuzzFeed are both considering pulling out. Understandable, considering the negative power of association on the web. However, others are urging panelists not to quit. Randi Harper, founder of Online Abuse Prevention Initiative (and one of the “Level Up” panelists) took to Twitter on Monday, and encouraged others to speak: “Silence is not solidarity”
There are still five months until SXSW – a lot can happen between now and then. Will we see further cancellations? Maybe a change in approach to the panels? Clearly online harassment is a real and ever-growing monster that needs to be addressed, in a safe environment. Now we just have to find someone who is still willing to do so.