Thoughts on the SXSW Online Harassment Summit

I’ve had some time to sit and think about my experiences with SXSW and the summit, and while I’m not able to put forth the time and effort in doing a complete teardown of everything that happened, there’s some information circulating that I think needs to be refuted.

First, on SavePoint, also known as the GamerGate panel.

My panel fought for them to be present at SXSW when we were discussing coming back, prior to the summit being announced. To be completely clear, I think they are assholes that shouldn’t have been given a talk in the first place. Ethics in journalism? Pffft. However, they shouldn’t have been canceled due to threats. That was wrong, and it needed to be corrected, regardless of our feelings about the panelists and their content.

When SXSW originally brought them back, they wanted to make them part of the online harassment summit. Maybe that would have been a good choice had people been looking for pointers on how to participate in harassment campaigns and hate groups, but I didn’t think that’s what SXSW was going for, so we pushed to get them moved to SXSW Gaming, which is where they were originally slated to talk. Eventually, this happened, and we agreed to come back.

Since then, I haven’t really thought about SavePoint or talked about it with anyone. However, shortly after the online harassment summit ended and during my self-imposed Twitter break, I started getting more hateful content than usual. I received about 30 emails in 24 hours, each of which was more incoherent than the last. Some had gore, some had threats, but all were very angry at how I was silencing a SavePoint panelist. I had no idea what was going on, so I checked their Twitter and saw a multi-tweet rampage. I’m not going to refute every point this person made, but here’s a few.

I called this person a “killer”.

What? No. What?

I lobbied SXSW to move SavePoint to an undesirable location and time.

I have never talked to SXSW about the timing of any panel. I don’t know why they were scheduled to be at the Hyatt, but that was the same location as the SXSW Online Harassment Summit. I’m guessing it’s because it was easier to let in members of the general public, as that talk wasn’t restricted to SXSW attendees, but that’s just speculation.

I’m responsible for the lack of media coverage at SavePoint.

If I had that kind of power, I wouldn’t be using it on a panel that only GamerGate cares about. I would be using it on Donald Drumpf. It was likely the behavior of several of the SavePoint panelists that convinced journalists that it was going to be a mudslinging shitshow. This is a fairly established pattern, though, so it’s not like this was surprising to anyone watching. With the exception of the patterns of harassment and helping their targets, I don’t really care about GamerGate or anything they have to say. Neither does anyone else at this point. They’ve had a year and a half, and all they’ve managed to accomplish was running women out of the industry. Don’t worry, though. I’m sure they’ll respond with links to updated disclosure policies. Because they are convinced that they are responsible for these updated policies, and that this totally justifies their systematic silencing of voices with which they don’t agree.

I asked SXSW to censor this person.

Wrong. After receiving a barrage of garbage instigated by this person, I asked SXSW to enforce their conference policy, which included that participants must treat each other with respect. Being asked to follow a code of conduct isn’t the end of the world. It’s the same code of conduct that is imposed on anyone attending or presenting at SXSW. This person was not singled out. They were asked to be a decent human being, and they found this task impossible. Shock. It didn’t take any effort for me to ignore them, but they couldn’t take it upon themselves to do the same.

On the MVC article.

This article bugged me. While it had a few valid points, the weird tear it took on security was out of line and uninformed.

When we agreed to come back, we started talking about security. When it was decided that there would be an entire summit with a significant number of people that are targets of harassment, those talks got more serious.

I don’t go to major conferences unless there’s a strong security presence. Because our talk had already been subject to a flurry of violent threats, security was more extensive than usual.

While SXSW did many things wrong, I’m not going to let them take the hit on this. We pushed for that extensive security. In saying that we should have just braved it without that security, that’s a deliberate trivializing of the offline impact that online harassment can have.

Our panel wasn’t just white women. Out of the three of us, two have been targeted by physical violence in the form of being SWATed. We’re well aware of how police forces can be misused.

The news is already rolling in about the numerous fucked up things that happened with Austin Police during SXSW, but I have heard no stories nor witnessed nothing inappropriate by them happening at the harassment summit. Bag checks were done by SXSW staff. Police remained unobtrusive but present.

I’m genuinely sorry that things have to be this way, but that’s the state of the world within which we live. I will do whatever it takes to keep myself and my panelists as safe as possible while we risk ourselves repeatedly in speaking out and working on solutions to prevent and mitigate online harassment.

Closing thoughts.

SXSW wasn’t perfect. I don’t like the way the summit was planned. In late stages, there was a complete lack of transparency. It was poorly attended, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. It was about 5 blocks from SXSW, but the thing is, the only people that are going to be interested in going to a day-long summit about this subject are those that already know about the subjects being discussed. We were promised things that didn’t happen — like that our talk would be streamed. The only thing that made it a good use of my time would have been had the talk been streamed, because the online interest for our panel was fairly high. My time is the most valuable thing I have to give anyone, so I’m still a bit peeved.

If SXSW really wants to be a part of the discourse happening around online harassment, they need to fund activists that wanted to speak but couldn’t afford it. They need to have a better system for streaming each of the talks. They need to actually let panelists decide for themselves what panels they want to be on. Yeah, that’s a thing that happened.

One of the most valuable events I’ve been to was one where an organization sponsored many of us getting together in a room to talk to each other for two days. At the end, we had a small session that was open to the public. During this two day period, a number of us wrote the letter to ICANN about their proposed removal of domain privacy, which went on to be signed by a huge list of organizations. This campaign was a success, and domain privacy remains an option to everyone to this day. When all of us working on these issues are given the resources to work together, we can accomplish real progress.

Should SXSW do that type of event? None of this really seems in line with SXSW’s core audience — whatever that audience might be. I don’t really know, and I question if anyone else knows, either.

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