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Vox and Buzzfeed withdraw from SXSW - unless panels on gaming harassment are reinstated


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

October 28, 2015 | 4 min read

Vox and Buzzfeed have threatened to boycott South by Southwest Interactive Festival 2016 (SXSW) after organisers cancelled panels discussing harassment, diversity and community in gaming.

Both publishers issued the ultimatum in response to the cancellation of two panels discussing harassment against women and other groups in gaming communities after unspecified on-site threats were issued against those participating on Tuesday (27 October).

The panels, vital in the aftermath of the Gamergate controversy which shone a light on the systematic abuse perpetrated against top females in the gaming industry on a daily basis, sparked protest from the media companies.

Buzzfeed issued an email to the director of the festival Hugh Forrest. It read: “Digital harassment - of activists of all political stripes, journalists, and women in those fields or participating in virtually any other form of digital speech - has emerged as an urgent challenge for the tech companies for whom your conference is an important forum.

"Those targets of harassment, who include our journalists, do important work in spite of these threats.”

Buzzfeed staff were scheduled to speak at a half dozen events but will 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",

It concluded: “Fortunately, the conference is five months away. We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then.”

Similarly, Vox issued a statement: “As a digital media company, our journalists often face online harassment and find themselves on the receiving end of threats. We support our staff when they encounter this kind of abuse while continuing to do the work that can result in it, and want to continue an open dialogue about how best to do so.

"By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. By cancelling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today.

“We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them.”

Vox vowed to find an alternative platform for the conversation into gaming harassment if SXSW does not comply.

In response, festival director Forrest issued a statement: “We want the SXSW community to know that we hear and understand your frustrations and concerns about the recent cancellation of two SXSW Gaming panels.

“The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.

“Moving forward, we are also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved.”

SXSW is a film, interactive media, and music festival, taking place in Austin, Texas in March each year.

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