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SXSW canceled a panel on combatting harassment in gaming after receiving threats of violence

The Austin, Texas music and tech festival, South by Southwest, has canceled two panels on the current state of the gaming community, one of which focused on creating solutions to online abuse, after the organizers received “numerous” threats of violence.

Festival organizers said it has decided to remove “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” from its 2016 lineup, just one week after the panels were announced.

The “Level Up” panel, led by programmer and activist Randi Lee Harper, and featuring IBM Watson interaction designer Caroline Sinders and writer Katherine Cross, was meant to discuss the issue of online harassment in the gaming community, and how gamers can combat or design against it.

The SavePoint panel was to be a discussion about the “social/political landscape” of today’s video game community, one year after GamerGate exploded on social media. Essentially a backlash against women calling out sexism in gaming, the virulent movement sparked an all-out internet culture war, and led to violent threats against women developers and gamers.

Perry Jones, one of the SavePoint panelists and the founder of the Open Gaming Society, wrote on Reddit last week that the panel would talk about “many GamerGate ideas” and facilitate discussion with “prominent GamerGate figureheads.” However, Jones wrote on the Open Gaming Society’s website yesterday that SXSW “has had to bear the brunt of the backlash” against their panel, and decided to cancel his and Harper’s event because they are a “very neutral” organization.

SXSW director Hugh Forrest explained in a statement: “[In] the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.”

The festival, he added, “prides itself on being a big tent,” and featuring diverse points of view.

“[P]reserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful,” he wrote. “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.”

Critics of SXSW’s decision have urged the festival to find a way to run both events safely. Tech blogger Anil Dash tweeted at the festival, saying, “This is the wrong call.” In a letter, BuzzFeed said it would withdraw its staff from a half dozen SXSW panels unless organizers reinstate the gaming panels.

“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,” wrote editor-in-chief Ben Smith, president Ze Frank, and publisher Dao Nyugen.

In a statement, Jones wrote that the Open Gaming Society would “organize, fund, and host” the SavePoint panel on its own.

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