BuzzFeed plans to withdraw its participation from the South by Southwest Interactive festival after organizers decided to cancel two gaming and online harassment panels after receiving “numerous threats of on-site violence.”
In a letter to the organizers of the Austin-based media festival sent Tuesday, President of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures Ze Frank, BuzzFeed Publisher Dao Nguyen, and BuzzFeed 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.”
On Monday, members of the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” panel said they had received emails notifying them that SXSW had canceled the discussions after receiving threats. The panel included several women who had previously been targets of harassment as part of the Gamergate movement.
Here’s the full message BuzzFeed sent to Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival Hugh Forrest:
We were disturbed to learn yesterday that you canceled two panels, including one on harassment in gaming, in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight.
We hope you will reconsider that decision, and reinstate the panels.
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 has participated deeply in SXSW for years, and our staffers
are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW
2016. We will feel compelled to withdraw them 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. We hope
you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital
issue facing us and other constituents on the event.
Fortunately, the conference is five months away. 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
We look forward to your reply.
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