The South By Southwest Festival will hold a one-day summit about the issue of online harassment, a response to the outcry after organizers cancelled two panels earlier this week.
BuzzFeed and Vox Media threatened not to participate in the annual festival in March 2016 in Austin, Tex., after SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest on Tuesday announced the cancellations of two sessions about video games and online harassment. Organizers were blasted on social media for the decision.
“Earlier this week, we made a mistake,” Forrest said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Concern about the panels stemmed from a controversy sometimes called #Gamergate, a more than year-long cultural discussion among gamers, reporters and critics that’s happened primarily online, but has resulted in some real-world physical threats against individuals.
Forrest said in his statement that the feedback “from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear. While we made the decision in the interest of safety for all of our attendees, cancelling sessions was not an appropriate response. We have been working with the authorities and security experts to determine the best way to proceed. “
Organizers now plan a day-long Online Harassment Summit event on March 12 that will be live-streamed online.
Invited to take part in the event are members of the cancelled panels and other speakers whose submitted panels did not make the final schedule. Also invited: U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who had sent a letter to Forrest asking the festival to reconsider the panel cancellations.
Game developer Brianna Wu, who has been a target of threats amid the GamerGate controversy, was already scheduled to speak at two other SXSW panels, one on women in technology and another on virtual reality. She will now participate in the day-long summit.
Wu is among several women who have received online death threats after speaking out against online misogyny.
When contacted earlier this week about SXSW’s actions, she said that “I think if SXSW does not address this it could permanently damage reputation of their conference. … They are going to get a reputation as a conference that is hostile to women.”
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