South by Southwest Interactive Festival canceled two gaming panels Monday (Oct. 26) and in response, BuzzFeed says it will not be participating in SXSW 2016.
Members of the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” panel said that they received emails about the cancellation after SXSW reportedly received threats of violence. The panel was to include women who were harassed as part of Gamergate, as was the other panel that was canceled, “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”
The gaming community is not pleased with this turn of events. Brianna Wu, a frequent GamerGate commenter who is scheduled to speak at SXSW 2016 on panel about virtual reality, says this is a “mistake” on SXSW’s part.
In response to the cancellation, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith, along with president of Buzzfeed motion pictures Ze Frank and BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen wrote a letter to SXSW director Hugh Forrest detailing their objections — specifically, that the panels were canceled “in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight.”
“Digital harassment … has emerged as an urgent challenge for the tech companies for whom your conference is an important forum,” the letter reads. “Those targets of harassment, who include our journalists, do important work in spite of these threats.”
The BuzzFeed staffers say that they are willing to discuss heightened security, but will not participate in the festival if the panels are not reinstated.
“We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event. … We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then, and our security staff would be happy to advise on those measures.”
SXSW has yet to respond to the letter. The 2016 festival runs March 11-20, 2016 in Austin, Texas.
UPDATE: Austin 360’s tech culture writer Omar Gallaga reports that a source, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the decision to cancel the panels was not run by the SXSW board.
“A member of the SXSW interactive programming committee (formerly ‘advisory board’) who asked to remain anonymous tells me that the decision to cancel the two 2016 panels was not run by the board,” he writes.