BuzzFeed to Withdraw From SXSW After the Cancellation of Gamer-Harassment Panels

2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival - A Discussion with Robert Kirkman
Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/Corbis

BuzzFeed has announced it is withdrawing from South by Southwest Interactive after the organizers of the festival canceled two panels on gaming harassment … because of harassment.

In a letter to South by Southwest Interactive director Hugh Forrest, president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures Ze Frank, BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen, and editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote, “We will feel compelled to withdraw … if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day — to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment.”

SXSW Interactive, which is part of the larger SXSW series of music and film festivals, planned to host two panels about online harassment, one titled “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and another called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” which included several women who have been targets of widespread harassment as a result of their writing and activism, like Randi Lee Harper, Caroline Sinders, and Katherine Cross. The participants received emails on Monday telling them that both panels had been canceled after SXSW received “numerous threats of on-site violence.”

SWSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas,” Forrest wrote in the statement. “However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people cannot agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.”

Harper explained via Twitter direct message that she thought the conference folded too quickly and didn’t bother considering less-drastic options. “They should have involved the police immediately,” she wrote. “There are steps that can be taken to trace the originators of the threats, but those methods can be very time-sensitive. Consult with a third-party organization that deals with these specific situations. Add extra security in any panel that has controversial speakers. Often, even a show of having security present can deter people from causing trouble.”

BuzzFeed echoed Harper in its letter to Forrest: “We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then,” BuzzFeed wrote, “and our security staff would be happy to advise on those measures.”

BuzzFeed Withdrawing From SXSW