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SXSW Apologizes for Gamergate Panel Cancellations, Announces One-Day 'Online Harassment Summit' (Updated)

The organizers called the cancellations "a mistake."

Recode.net

A week after canceling two controversial panels scheduled for next year’s SXSW Interactive event, director Hugh Forrest apologized, calling the decision a “mistake.”

In addition, Forrest also announced plans for SXSW to host a one-day “Online Harassment Summit” on March 12 during the festival, that he said would include the canceled panels.

Update: The event will not feature all the speakers who were supposed to be on the scrapped panels. Randi Harper, who was part of a session that was to focus on abuse in the gaming industry, said that although she supported letting the Gamergate panel (including known Gamergate allies Mercedes Carrera and Nick Robalik) come back to SXSW, she did not support them as part of the summit.

Well-known figures set to attend the Summit include former Texas state senator Wendy Davis and game developer Brianna Wu.

“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,” the SXSW statement said. “Online harassment is a serious matter and we stand firmly against hate speech and cyber-bullying. It is a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm.”

The news confirms an earlier Re/code report.

The apology and announcement come after a week of nonstop controversy for SXSW. On Monday, Forrest said the festival was canceling two panels about the gaming industry because of “numerous threats of on-site violence.” The next day, BuzzFeed and Vox Media said they would forgo the event due to the move.

The two panels — one affiliated with the online mob Gamergate, many of whose members are clearly misogynistic and hateful, the other focused on ways to fight harassment in the gaming industry — will not be reinstated. Instead, the press release says all the speakers on those panels will be involved in the summit in a different capacity.

Brianna Wu, a game developer who has been targeted by Gamergate in the past and will appear at the Summit, told Re/code that she thinks the Summit has the potential to advance a meaningful discussion on the problem of online abuse.

“I’m frustrated with the path SXSW took getting to this point. But I think there’s the potential for a lot of good to come out of this disaster. I’m willing to put my personal feelings aside, because ending harassment is what’s most important,” Wu said. “Something that’s really critical is spending part of the summit discussing the mistakes SXSW made. All too often, we blame harassment on trolls. The trolls are just a symptom. The disease is a technology industry that doesn’t take the concerns of women seriously.”

Randi Harper, one of the original non-Gamergate panelists whose session was canceled, tweeted that although she was supportive of bringing the Gamergate folks back to SXSW, she was frustrated with Forrest’s decision to have them at the Summit (Update: See top of story). Wu said she wasn’t happy about it either, but she’s “confident that when the public looks at our views and their views side by side, ours will be more persuasive.”

“This is either going to be an extremely productive discussion or another train wreck,” she added.

You can read the full release below:

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.

The resulting feedback from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear. While we made the decision in the interest of safety for all of our attendees, canceling sessions was not an appropriate response. We have been working with the authorities and security experts to determine the best way to proceed.

It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address.

To that end, we’ve added a day-long summit to examine this topic. Scheduled on Saturday, March 12, the Online Harassment Summit will take place at SXSW 2016, and we plan to live-stream the content throughout the day.

The summit will include Randi Harper, Katherine Cross and Caroline Sinders from “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” as well as Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” We are working with both groups to develop the most productive focus for their appearances.

A number of additional speakers have been invited to join the summit to expand the conversation and give this issue the substantive discussion it deserves. Confirmed speakers include:

Monika Bickert (Head of Product Policy, Facebook)
Soraya Chemaly (Writer/Director, WMC Speech Project)
Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts)
Wendy Davis (Women’s Rights Advocate; former TX State Senator)
Mark DeLoura (VP Technology, formerly with Sony, Nintendo, Google, and White House OSTP)
Mary Anne Franks (Law Professor, University of Miami School of Law and Legislative & Tech Policy Director, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative)
Jonathan Greenblatt (CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League)
Umair Haque (umairhaque.com)
Sarah Jeong (Contributing Editor, Vice Motherboard)
Emily May (Co-founder and Executive Director, Hollaback!)
Kelly McBride (Vice President of Academic Programs, The Poynter Institute)
Shireen Mitchell (Founder, Digital Sisters and Stop Online Violence Against Women)
Nika Nour (Director, Communications and Creative Strategies, Internet Association)
Meredith L. Patterson (Security Researcher)
Joseph Reagle (Northeastern University and Author, “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web”)
Jeffrey Rosen (President & CEO, National Constitution Center)
Lee Rowland (Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project)
Ari Ezra Waldman (Associate Professor of Law, New York Law School)
Brianna Wu (Head of Development, Giant Spacekat)

Online harassment is a serious matter and we stand firmly against hate speech and cyber-bullying. It is a menace that has often resulted in real world violence; the spread of discrimination; increased mental health issues and self-inflicted physical harm.

SXSW strives to bring a diverse range of voices together to facilitate meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of civility and respect. Given the nature of online harassment, we will continue to work closely with the authorities and safety experts while planning for SXSW 2016.

Stay tuned to the SXSW website in the coming weeks for additional details.

*More presenters will be announced as their participation is confirmed. All speakers subject to change

This story is developing, we’ll update it as we learn more.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.