SXSW removes Gamergate panel from online harassment day

The organizers of South by Southwest have been dealing with significant backlash after cancelling a panel dedicated to overcoming the rampant harassment culture that has cropping up around video games in the last few years. Today, SXSW has confirmed that the previously-cancelled "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" session will be part of its March 12th Online Harassment summit. That summit was created following swift negative feedback over SXSW's decision to cancel the Level Up panel after it received threats of on-site violence. It also announced that it's moving a pro-Gamergate panel off of the online harassment day, as the panel doesn't directly deal with harassment.

That pro-Gamergate panel, called "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community," was also cancelled at the same time as SXSW cancelled Level Up. When it put together its online harassment event as a way of making up for cancelling those panels, SXSW made the curious move of inviting the SavePoint participants to that event -- even though the SavePoint panel was ostensibly about gaming culture and gaming journalism rather than online harassment.

Indeed, given that many Gamergate supporters have been directly linked to online harassment and threats of violence, LevelUp panel participant Randi Harper tweeted that she felt unsafe by having them participate. Now, SXSW finally appears to have straightened things out: Level Up will be part of the online harassment day, while the SavePoint discussion is being moved to another day entirely.

Harper today tweeted out a confirmation that her panel would be participating in SXSW, saying that there was "a lot of planning" to be done in the months before SXSW kicks off but that the panel participants were happy to be back on the schedule.

The whole situation has to be a harsh learning experience for SXSW organizers: with both Level Up and SavePoint going forward as they were originally planned to, the organization has effectively reversed the cancellations it announced last month -- but that's only following tremendous online backlash as well as threats from media organizations Buzzfeed and Vox Media to pull out of the event entirely, both from a coverage and participation standpoint. All told, SXSW has provided a great example of how not to deal with safety threats to those participating -- here's hoping it has learned from the experience and will treat those presenting at the show with more sensitivity in the future.

[Image credit: Mark Norman Francis/Flickr]