SXSW Interactive Announces Online Harassment Summit After PR Mess

By Omar L. Gallaga
Austin American-Statesman.

South by Southwest Interactive on Friday worked to reverse a public-relations disaster by announcing an Online Harassment Summit for its March 2016 festival.

The March 12 event would reinstate two online gaming-related panels that had been canceled on Monday to widespread criticism.

It is to include about 20 more speakers to discuss harassment, particularly toward women.

But it remained unclear if SXSW’s effort to create meaningful dialogue out of a week of scathing criticism against the festival would go as planned. According to a report on the website Re/code, participants in one of the reinstated panels, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” were considering not attending, saying they weren’t told in advance that another panel including proponents of the GamerGate movement also would be brought back.

“This feels like another misstep from SXSW. Having an entire summit on anti-harassment could have been a really great endeavor,” Caroline Sinders, a technologist and panel organizer, said in a statement to Re/code. “This just seems like further proof that SXSW does not understand harassment or how to produce a safe, inclusive and tolerant space for speakers and attendees.”

Looming over the proceedings is GamerGate, a year-old online movement that started as a controversy over video-game reviews and a female video game developer but has since mushroomed into an often vitriolic campaign that proponents say is about freedom of speech and fairness in games journalism but which critics say is a misogynistic hive of anti-feminism and threats that have gone beyond the online realm.

Since the Monday cancellation, SXSW Interactive has faced one of its biggest challenges in its 22-year history, attempting to fix what festival director Hugh Forrest acknowledged in a Friday blog post was a mistake.

“By canceling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry,” he wrote.

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