SXSW Conference Reinstates Two Panels Following Gamergate Backlash

Bruce Springsteen delivers a keynote address at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival in 2012. REUTERS/Julia Robinson

South by Southwest (SXSW), the popular Austin, Texas–based annual event for music, film and digital culture and technology, has reinstated the two panels on harassment in the gaming industry originally canceled over safety concerns.

The cancellation of the panels—titled "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games"—prompted a backlash against SXSW, with digital media outlets BuzzFeed and Vox Media threatening to pull out of the conference for its giving in to cyberbullying.

SXSW Director Hugh Forrest wrote in a blog post on October 26 that, since announcing the panels, SXSW has received "multiple threats" of on-site violence.

Four days later, Forrest apologized for the decision in a different post, calling it a "mistake."

"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," wrote Forrest in the company blog post.

In addition to the reinstatement of the panels, SXSW will host a daylong summit on March 12 to examine harassment. SXSW will live-stream the summit for free.

The backtracking by SXSW is the culmination of another chapter in the controversy-laden movement called Gamergate. Gamergate started last August as a movement against feminists and so-called social justice warriors, who adherents believe have undue influence on the video game industry.

Harassment from Gamergaters has previously led to cancellations of panels and talks by gaming journalists. Video game developer and frequent Gamergate target Brianna Wu was forced to flee her home due to escalating threats of violence.

Forrest clarified in the blog post that online harassment was not an issue SXSW took lightly.

"Online harassment is a serious matter and we stand firmly against hate speech and cyber-bullying," wrote Forrest. "It is a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm."