SXSW Interactive cancels panels due to threats

SXSW Interactive announced on October 26 that it was canceling two sessions for the 2016 event after it says it received numerous threats of on-site violence related to the programming. Now BuzzFeed says it will withdraw its participation in the event unless SXSW reverses its decision.

The discussions canceled were "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games." 

SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest posted a statement on their website to explain why they decided to cancel the events. It says:

On Monday, October 26, SXSW Interactive made the call to cancel two sessions for the 2016 event: "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games." 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.

-- Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive Director

In response, BuzzFeed sent a letter to Forrest that it posted on its website and explained its position on why it intended to withdraw:

Dear Hugh,

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
President
BuzzFeed Motion Pictures

Dao Nguyen
Publisher
BuzzFeed

Ben Smith
Editor-in-Chief
BuzzFeed

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