On Monday, the South by Southwest festival announced that it was nixing a pair of gaming-related panel discussions because a bunch of mouth-breathing, neck-bearded man-children threatened "on-site violence" in response. Tuesday, three Buzzfeed executives -- EIC Ben Smith, President of Motion Pictures Ze Frank and Publisher Dao Nguyen penned a strongly worded letter to the festival, effectively demanding organizers put on their Big Boy Pants and not be swayed by unsubstantiated threats. Otherwise, Buzzfeed would pull its entire staff from the event and at least a half dozen other unrelated panels. Good on you, Buzzfeed.
You can read the letter in its entirety below:
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
We look forward to your reply.
BuzzFeed Motion Pictures
Update: Joining the backlash, Vox Media announced plans to skip the event unless SXSW reinstates the panels, while US Representative Katherine Clark has also petitioned organizers regarding the Level Up panel. SXSW has now posted its first response, saying it is "also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved." There's no details on what that could include or even means, but more information is apparently coming soon.