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SXSW apologizes, launches day-long Online Harassment Summit

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South by Southwest organizers earned the ire of the internet this week after canceling two panels aimed at addressing online harassment and "GamerGate" culture in the video game industry. SXSW canceled the discussions because it received "numerous threats of violence" -- a reason that, to many, gave power to those threats and in fact encouraged continued harassment. Both Buzzfeed and Vox Media swiftly announced plans to skip SXSW entirely unless the panels were reinstated. Today, SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest offered an apology and announced the Online Harassment Summit for March 12th. It's a full-day event that SXSW says will feature people from both of the canceled panels, plus a lineup of additional speakers. SXSW will live-stream the summit all day, for free. However, one panel organizer says she's not on-board with this new solution.

Randi Harper helped organize the previously canceled (non-GamerGate) panel, "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games." She says on Twitter, "At this time, my panel... is not confirmed to be a part of the Online Harassment Summit at SXSW." Harper notes, "While we support GamerGate being a part of SXSW Gaming, having them as part of the online harassment summit is a safety concern."

For now, SXSW lists Harper and her panel as participants in the Online Harassment Summit.

"Earlier this week we made a mistake," Forrest writes. "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. 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."

Despite the apology, it appears Harper was blindsided by her inclusion in the new summit and SXSW still has some issues to work out before the festival kicks off in March.

[Image credit: Mark Norman Francis/Flickr]

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