When SXSW organizers canceled two distinct panels, both BuzzFeed and Vox Media, Re/code and The Verge's parent company, threatened to pull out of this year's festival. The topics concern abuse and harassment in the industry.
The two panels that were called off tackle sensitive and important issues. They are known as SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community and Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games. The former is somewhat associated with Gamergate, an online controversy surrounding female gamers who say they are being belittled, harassed and persecuted by the males in the gaming community. The latter, as the name suggests, is a bit more general and focuses on the harassment in games. The second panel is set up by IBM Watson's Caroline Sinders.
Until SXSW withdraws its decision, the two firms will continue to pass up on the event.
"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," BuzzFeed's president of motion pictures Ze Frank, publisher Dao Nguyen and editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote in an email addressed to SXSW interactive director Hugh Forrest.
"Vox Media will not be participating in this year's festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us," Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media, said in a statement.
Forrest explains that the reason for the panels' cancelation is because SXSW received threatening letters.
"The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions," SXSW posted on its website, explaining the community's concern.
We hear you. Safety is a top priority, and so is your voice. https://t.co/wEe9W1pIce
— SXSW (@sxsw) October 27, 2015
As of right now, it's unclear how violent or genuine the threats are, but SXSW intends to find out more about them before making a decision, prioritizing the safety of SXSW festival attendees. But the organizer's decision was met with criticism, as Randi Lee Harper, one of the panelists for Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games, spoke up on Twitter, saying that "silence is not solidarity."
A few people have pinged me, so going to state this publicly - do not cancel your SXSW panel. Silence is not solidarity. — Randi Lee Harper (@randileeharper) October 27, 2015
Hopefully, SXSW will reach an agreement with BuzzFeed and Vox Media before the event starts.