South By Southwest Cancels Gaming Harassment Session Due To Threats

Young man playing a video game

South by Southwest has canceled two sessions about the video gaming industry culture, including one on harassment, at its 2016 annual meeting of the technology industry in Austin, Texas, after receiving threats of violent attack.

"In the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming," Hugh Forrest, the SXSW Interactive director, said in a blog post on Oct. 26.

The industry has become embroiled in a movement that has come to be known as "Gamergate" in which self-described video game fans have lashed back aggressively online at criticism about sexism in gaming culture. The movement came into general public view more than a year ago.

The Interactive portion of South by Southwest, typically held in March, is one of the major annual events in the technology industry.

The two discussions were titled "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games."

"If people cannot agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised," Forrest said in the post.

Internet media site BuzzFeed sent a letter to SXSW organizers telling them the panels are to tackle important subjects that need to be addressed and it would withdraw from the conference if the organizers do not reverse their decision, BuzzFeed said on Oct. 27.

"We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event," top BuzzFeed executives said in the letter.

The panel on harassment was scheduled to include several women who have been targets of the Gamergate movement, the letter said. BuzzFeed staff members are set to speak or moderate on a half dozen panels at SXSW next year, it said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham) Photo credit: RebeccaPollard/Flickr

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