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SXSW Bungles Announcement of 'Online Harassment Summit,' and Panelists Are Pulling Out

The press release caught some panelists by surprise.

Michael Buckner / Getty

This morning, SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest released a statement apologizing for canceling two controversial panels earlier this week, and announcing a March 12 “Online Harassment Summit” that would include members of the canceled sessions.

SXSW’s statement said speakers from the two panels were set to be a part of the Summit, including the Gamergate-affiliated panel “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” This came as a surprise to the organizers of “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” who say they were not notified beforehand that the “SavePoint” panelists who supported the hateful Gamergate mob (Mercedes Carrera and Nick Robalik) would be at the Summit.

This is why the “Level Up” panelists are now pulling out of the Summit, saying they’ve lost faith in the ability of SXSW to put together an event that would properly accommodate their safety concerns (Update: “Level Up” panelist Randi Harper says she’s “currently working with SXSW towards a resolution for this situation”). Re/code has reached out to scheduled Summit attendees for comment, and we’ll update this story as we hear back from more people. Here are the responses of Summit attendees thus far:

Caroline Sinders, “Level Up” panel organizer

“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.

“We recommended speakers, and worked with SXSW to really help curate and create what could have been a really fantastic, invigorating, and educational panel. We support Save Point being int he Gaming tract of SXSW but having their panel [sic] participant in the anti harassment creates multiple security concerns for new speakers as well as attendees. This just seems like further proof that SXSW does not understand harassment or how to produce a safe, inclusive and tolerant space for speakers and attendees.”

Randi Lee Harper, “Level Up” panelist and founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative

“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.”

Katherine Cross, “Level Up” panelist and sociologist

Brianna Wu, Head of Development at Giant SpaceKat

“I think SXSW needs to pick up the phone, ask [Randi Harper] what she needs to feel safe at this event and make it happen.”

Sarah Jeong, Contributing Editor at Vice’s Motherboard

“I also only just found out that the SavePoint panel would be hosted at the very same event.

“The initial list of speakers, as was conveyed to me before I agreed to participate in SXSW, was a great starting point for what could potentially be a groundbreaking event. But this current situation is untenable. If the original Level Up panel backs out, I will be backing out as well.”

The Summit is set to include such high-profile figures as Facebook’s head of product policy Monika Bickert and former Texas state senator Wendy Davis. Earlier this week, BuzzFeed threatened to pull out of SXSW altogether unless the panels were reinstated, and Vox Media said it would do the same unless “appropriate steps were taken.”

SXSW interactive director Forrest could not be reached for comment at the time of this article’s publication.

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