A Decision that Betrays SXSW’s History

SXSW Capitulates to Internet Bullies

To be clear, I am not a gamer. I’m not plugged into the video game community. However, I feel strongly about the influence prominent and established organizations can have on the promotion of open discourse. SXSW Interactive had an opportunity to set a positive example, and their recent cancellation of two gaming culture panels following online threats is not only disheartening but unfaithful to SXSW’s overarching mission to be “a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.”


Last week, the tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival announced it would host two panels on the topic of video game culture. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” were intended to shed light on sexist tensions within the gaming community and the toxic world of online harassment. Although not directly associated with the Gamergate controversy, these panels would serve as opportunities for critical discussion on online etiquette and the exclusion of minorities in the gaming world.

Following the announcement, SXSW was barraged by threats of violence which ultimately led to their decision to cancel the two panels. Cancellation letters to panelists cited security concerns while reminding attendees that SXSW prides itself in its commitment to diversity.

SXSWi Director Hugh Forrest’s Explanation

The cancellations have incited additional backlash, and Buzzfeed has even threatened to withdraw their attendance unless the conference reconsiders and finds a way to ensure appropriate safety precautions be made by the time of the conference in March.

Since 1994, SXSW Interactive has welcomed growing numbers of independent thinkers, builders, and leaders to share their visions for our future.

By cancelling panels on diversity in gaming, SXSW is doing a disservice to its history and mission.

In 2015, SXSWi hosted nearly 34,000 festival participants from 85 foreign countries with 2,700 speakers and 3,389 media in attendance. While SXSWi’s attendee list has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in tech, it’s also maintained its core desire to bring together a variety of people to discuss and generate ideas. The conversations borne out of this event influence millions of readers via print, online,and broadcast coverage.

Given that sexism in the tech space has been a hot topic the last few years, SXSW’s cancellation suggests that discussing challenges in the gaming industry are not worth the trouble of ensuring a civil environment for constructive conversation. Although diversity challenges exist in any male-dominated industry, digital harassment in this Internet-everything era is of particular concern and not giving voice to the issue propagates undue influence to online bullies.

Diversity is always a prickly issue; it is multi-faceted, messy, and contentious. But as an organization devoted to discourse with its breadth of influence, SXSW had opportunity to stand firm in its belief and encourage the kind of open dialogue that leads to new ideas that drive us forward. At the very least, it could have enlightened many to the darker sides of the Internet so that we as a community could talk about how to make it a better, safer, and more accessible place for all. By refusing to seize this opportunity for enormous positive interaction and information exchange, SXSW has comprised its core tenets and demonstrated a glaring ignorance to the needs of its community.