South by Southwest (SXSW) issued an apology Friday for nixing two online harassment panels due to violent threats after suffering days of intense public backlash for the decision.
Organizers for the interactive arm of the annual Austin, Texas conference began receiving threats after it announced the inclusion of two panels set to address harassment in the gaming community, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”
Two major digital media companies, Vox and Buzzfeed, threatened to rescind their participation, along with event attendees and other panelists, if SXSW didn’t reconsider.
It did. Both panels have been reinstated and SXSW is dedicating March 12, 2016 of the conference for day-long online harassment discussions.
SXSW Interactive’s director Hugh Forrest apologized in a statement Friday for the organization’s decision to terminate the harassment panels, and that in doing so, it unintentionally condoned the behavior.
Earlier this week we made a mistake. By cancelling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry.
The resulting 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.
It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address.
To that end, we’ve added a day-long summit to examine this topic. Scheduled on Saturday, March 12, the Online Harassment Summit will take place at SXSW 2016, and we plan to live-stream the content free for the public throughout the day…
Online harassment is a serious matter and we stand firmly against hate speech and cyber-bullying. It is a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm.
SXSW strives to bring a diverse range of voices together to facilitate meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of civility and respect. Given the nature of online harassment, we will continue to work closely with the authorities and safety experts while planning for SXSW 2016.