Austin’s annual media festival South by Southwest (SXSW) caused controversy on Monday after they canceled gaming and online harassment panels over “threats of on-site violence.”  

 

One of the canceled panels, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” had planned to speak on the topic of internet harassment and how to respond when targeted by online threats. The panel’s speakers aren’t strangers to online threats of violence and death; their stance against rampant sexism in the gaming community and the way women are portrayed in video games makes the panelists a prime target for cyberbullies.

 

 

The threats made against the festival were another attempt at silencing those that want to have an open dialogue about the problems occurring within the gaming community. While SXSW made their decision to prevent violence at the festival, many see this move as counterintuitive to putting an end to these threats.         

 

Katherine Cross

Katherine Cross, gaming critic and scheduled Level Up panelist. (feministing.com)

“Our panel was about the much wider issue of online harassment, and about developing productive solutions to the problem,” said Katherine Cross, a gaming critic and scheduled Level Up panel speaker.

 

How should the festival respond to these threats of violence? Level Up panel organizer Caroline Sinders believes that the simple solution of increasing security at SXSW could be enough to put a stop to potential violence against the panel’s speakers and audience.            

 

“We really empathize with SXSW, [but] we think this could have been handled with security measures,” said Sinders. “When a conference hasn’t had to deal with harassment at this level, it’s very hard to figure out what to do.”

 

Many believe that SXSW should respond by allowing a public discourse on the topic of online harassment to take place at the festival. After receiving negative feedback over the panel’s cancellation, SXSW has started to reconsider their decision. Interactive Festival Director Hugh Forest apologized for cancelling the panels, and said that their decision sent an “unintended message.”

 

“It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address,” said Forest.

 

Should SXSW respond to the threats by increasing the number of panels that discuss online harassment? Is allowing these panels to take place at the festival problematic or much needed? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.