It’s safe to say that the response to SXSW’s decision to cancel a panel about online harassment after being harassed themselves, as well as a panel featuring many Gamergate-associated guests, was less than positive. Last night, SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest posted an update saying the conference was “working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats” and “evaluating several programming solutions.” According to Re/code, sources have said that the Level Up panel on harassment has been re-instated (although with no confirmation that the panelists themselves will be attending). Not only that, the report suggests that the conference is considering an all-day forum devoted to combating online harassment. We’re not sure how likely this is, but we’ll know by the end of the week, apparently. There’s no word yet on whether the other panel will be reinstated.
This change in attitude might be sudden but considering yesterday Buzfeed announced that they would withdraw all of their panels from SXSW if the two cancelled gaming panels weren’t reinstated, and Vox Media announced their intentions to withdraw their programming for the very same reason, it’s hardly all that surprising. It seems like very hasty damage control.
SXSW are hard pushed to do anything completely right at the moment thanks to their hasty cancellation decision, which should have been avoidable in the first place had they considered the obvious need for extensive security of the panelists it would be featuring, given track records.
At this point we have to ask why, so suddenly, SXSW can muster up the security it clearly couldn’t only two days ago. Is SXSW the right place to hold any program, let alone an all-day event, that will combat online harassment? It would be great to see the discussion become larger, as it should be, bringing in more people and longer more in-depth discussion. But it seems disingenuous.
The media companies threatening to cancel their own panels, as well as individual panelists decrying SXSW’s decision has of course placed a lot of pressure on the conference to find a solution that pleases everyone.
But that doesn’t seem to be what they’re doing. With this announcement it seems more like they’re running around with their eyes closed hoping they’ll run into the best course of action. Most of the pressure now actually lies unfairly on the panelists slated to appear at these events, many of whom have faced threats purely because of the controversy SXSW has created. I wouldn’t blame these panelists at all for refusing to appear. Perhaps SXSW should communicate more with the people who are to actually appear on these panels, ask them what they think, how they feel, rather than make poor snap decisions that are obviously making no one happy.
If SXSW truly do lack the security resources for this event and their sudden turnaround is purely a financially and PR motivated reaction they’re not only being very irresponsible, they’re also being insincere in their commitment to tackling online harassment, clearly showing they don’t understand the problem at all.
Main Image via SXSW