Updated, 2:55 p.m. with more panelist info, including new info from
SXSW Interactive has announced what organizers are calling an online harassment summit for March 12, in the wake of national backlash after two panels related to the topic were taken off the schedule earlier this week.
SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest called the earlier cancellations a mistake in the announcement: “Earlier this week we made a mistake. By canceling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry.”
He also said in Friday’s announcement that the topic of online harassment is a bigger discussion than two panels. He said the daylong Saturday summit, which is during the 2016 fest, will be live streamed, and confirmed speakers include people from the two canceled panels: Randi Harper, Katherine Cross and Caroline Sinders from “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games”; and Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”
Read the full announcement, including other confirmed speakers, here. We’ll have more on this developing story.
Update, 2:40 p.m. Friday. The story is not over. After winning some kudos online for pulling together an Online Harassment Summit, South by Southwest Interactive’s saving throw against disaster may be falling apart before it get going.
In a report on Re/code, which initially broke the rumors of the summit on Tuesday, panelists for one of the reinstated panels, “Level Up,” say they were not made aware by the festival that the “SavePoint” panel would also be part of the summit and, according to the panel organizers, it’s not a lock that “Level Up” will be part of the summit.
According to Re/code, Randi Lee Harper said in a statement:
“At this time, Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Gaming is not confirmed to be speaking at SXSW’s online harassment summit. We worked closely with SXSW over the past few days, but we were very surprised to find SXSW making GamerGate a part of the discussion about online harassment. While we fully support GamerGate being a part of SXSW Gaming, adding them to the summit creates a safety concern for many of the people who are currently scheduled to be participating. It is unfortunate that SXSW still lacks an understanding of online harassment, and I have no confidence in their ability to run this summit while keeping panelists safe and providing for a productive conversation.”
Panel organizer Caroline Sinders, who wrote a generous post on Slate about the festival’s mistakes leading up to the cancellation, told Re/code:
“In light of the current SXSW announcement, we were not told that Save Point would join the Anti-Harassment Summit. This feels like another misstep from SXSW. Having an entire summit on Anti-Harassment could have been a really great endeavor.”
Ironically, these seems to be the same kind of communication problems that led to the unholy mess in the first place.
It’s unclear if a “Level Up” panel boycott would set off a chain of events that could keep media companies BuzzFeed and Vox Media away and set off a chain of events that could derail the Summit. SXSW has said it would offer no further comment beyond the Summit announcement, but it may be forced to take more action and talk more publicly if things continue on this track.
We’ve reached out to SXSW Interactive and have yet to hear back. The story so far is here.
Update, 2:58 p.m.: One participant of the original “SavePoint” panel who was not listed as a participant at the Online Harassment Summit, Nick Robalik of Pixel Metal, says he believes he’s being unjustly accused of harassment and has not been contacted by SXSW Interactive about attending the Summit.
“They’ve actively avoided being in touch,” Robalik said in an online message to the American-Statesman, “Hugh (Forrest) has been pushing off any form of contact to ‘maybe next week.’ ”
Robalik says he was told by a reporter that he may have been excluded over accusations by friends of the “Level Up” panelists of taking photos of women without their permission at a game panel, a claim he denies, adding he was 400 miles away.
“SXSW has refused to say what information they’ve received, but as a reporter was told what I related above, I assume it’s the same,” he said. “I should be clear, however, that I have not been disinvited and that my bio & info still appears in the opgamingsociety press packet.”