SXSW Holds Online Harassment Summit

Over the weekend South By Southwest hosted the Online Harassment Summit it created to allay the outrage over a decision made last fall to cancel a pair of gaming panels, one essentially about Gamergate, the other about anti-harassment efforts in gaming.

Here are a series of excerpts from news reports about the event

The atmosphere at the summit matched its sobering content. Security was much tighter than the typical SXSW panels. It including bag checks upon entering the building, policemen outside of bathrooms and panels, and constant reminders not to leave bags unattended or they would be “confiscated and destroyed.”

Each session began with a reading of SXSW’s code of conduct — something that isn’t done at other panels.

It painted a stark picture of the day-to-day fear that online harassment victims live in.

Held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, it was also distinctly separate (across the Colorado River) from Startup Village, the Austin Convention Center, and popular bars and restaurants where companies host their festivities.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons why the event was sparsely attended. It was hard not to notice more empty seats than people….

 

Digital Sistas executive officer Shireen Mitchell and Giant Spacekat co-founder Brianna Wu speak at SXSW on Saturday in Austin, Tex. (Brian Fung / The Washington Post)

Digital Sistas executive officer Shireen Mitchell and Giant Spacekat co-founder Brianna Wu speak at SXSW on Saturday in Austin, Tex. (Brian Fung / The Washington Post)

Nobody made a scene. And nobody wanted to talk about Gamergate….

The show of force aimed to ease concerns about a potential physical confrontation between some of the day’s high-profile panelists — such as game developers Brianna Wu and Randi Harper — and their biggest critics. But their opponents stayed away, and the panelists studiously skirted the caustic online battles that gave rise to that particular event in the first place.

“I don’t want to make this a Gamergate panel,” Wu said in her opening remarks.

Other session moderators seemed to take a similar cue, steering clear of any specific mentions of Gamergate. And the result was a day-long series of talks that were less about the problem of online harassment than the emerging solutions to it.

Wu is among the women in the gaming industry who have faced multiple death threats and harassment in the Gamergate controversy.

What the Online Harassment Summit lacked in headline-grabbing conflict, it made up for with compelling voices that saw tech, policy, and academic experts finding common ground on the subject of antagonistic and threatening online speech. At its best, the results included informed analysis, mountains of data, and calls to specific action—all while trying to balance both free and responsible speech with paradigms that looked beyond the United States’ model.

“We represent ourselves as a target”

The day’s highlight came courtesy of Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who sponsored a Congressional bill in November that would criminalize the act of “swatting,” or inciting police responses under false pretenses. That activity has spiked in recent years thanks to masked Internet telephony, and Clark was joined in her panel by someone with plenty of first-hand knowledge about the damage swatting can do: Sergeant BA Finley of the Johns Creek, Georgia police department.

Finley recalled a recent story in which a home in his jurisdiction was the target of a swatting attack—and its instigator turned out to be a British Columbia teenager who was subsequently convicted of 23 counts of swatting across the United States and Canada. Finley joined that teen’s pursuit after responding to a false report of a woman and two children having been murdered in the home, and he described that account at length—including meeting the parents in question and describing “the fear and panic” he saw on their faces.

Finley next confirmed work on other swatting cases, two of which have since resulted in convictions. The officer said he stood with Clark on her work to broaden local police forces’ access to better tools to fight such Internet-enabled crimes.

“When we speak against [online harassment] and try to make change on it, we represent ourselves as a target,” Finley told the crowd. “But someone has to do it. We’re not going to take any more of it. I’m going to find you and I’m going to stop you. It’s more than a prank. It’s more than a joke.”

…After Clark recalled her own recent swatting story, she admitted one of the biggest educational gaps to address is among her Congressional colleagues, who “look at me when I use terms like ‘swatting’ and ‘doxing’ like I’ve lost my mind.” Clark compared their dismissive responses to years of legislative silence about how police should respond to issues of domestic violence. To paraphrase their responses, Clark said, “This is an online problem. We really can’t do anything about it, it happens out there on the Internet, we don’t know how to address that, to deal with something that isn’t potentially imminent.”

…And if SXSW is taking harassment more seriously, it’s not clear that its attendees are. Despite heavy promotion, the summit itself was a ghost town. It was held in a trio of frigid ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency ?— a long way across the river from the Austin Convention Center, where most SXSW events are hosted. None of the panels I attended were full, or even close to full. Most drew between 30 and 40 attendees, and usually about 70 percent of those people were women. At least half of the attendees were reporters.

Soraya Chemaly of Women’s Media Center remarked toward the end of a panel about women in the media: “It’s mainly women in this room. Probably we don’t need this information. If we had named this panel ‘The Freedom of Expression on the Internet,’ which is what it is, the room would probably be more 50-50.”

In a discussion about how harassment can silence diverse voices online and even end careers, She Knows Media’s Elisa Camahort Page argued that law enforcement still doesn’t understand how fundamental online platforms are to many people’s careers. The purpose of the panel was initially to highlight the bottom line for brands — dollars lost when advertisers don’t want to appear beside racial epithets, and users lost when sites sacrifice trust for growth — but the conversation quickly turned to individuals. Panelists emphasized that individuals usually don’t have the resources to fight harassment at scale, and that the frequent, callous suggestion that society seems to make to these individuals is “just don’t go online.”

…Several panelists also expressed disappointment that the existing research on online harassment insufficiently captures the reality of having more than one oppressed identity. Women of color, for example, who experience racialized and gendered harassment, do not yet have a body of research dedicated to their experiences. Jamia Wilson of Women, Action, and the Media said that women of color and transgender women had to wait longer to get a response after reporting abuse, and she expressed hope that more research would be conducted soon by her organization and by others.

…A dearth of diversity in tech was also singled out as a root cause of abuse, with Jamia Wilson commenting that “the people who build online tools inform the tools.” Katherine Cross of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York echoed this sentiment in a separate panel, saying, “it was largely men who designed these platforms, and they didn’t see these problems coming. Now they have to build backwards. New platforms should be built with community management in mind from the start.”

The tool on everyone’s minds seemed to be Twitter, which Cross referred to as “one of the most addictive games ever made.” Caroline Sinders, a design researcher for IBM Watson, characterized Twitter as a dangerous place because it’s a tool and content platform that people often mistake for a community. “How do you have community ownership of a tool that you’re not supposed to own, that you’re just supposed to exist in?” she asked.

As part of a panel discussion called “Is a Safer, Saner and Civil Internet Possible?” Ms. [Brianna] Wu said she has had over 200 death threats in the past few years.

She criticized some of the technology companies that acted as meeting hubs for GamerGate supporters — particularly YouTube and Reddit, the online message board — for not doing enough to take down offensive content when it was posted. Reddit does not require users to register real names or any other identifying information to use the site. It is a regular congregation spot for GamerGate activists.

“I can’t say this clearly enough: Reddit is failing women in every marginalized community spectacularly,” Ms. Wu said….

But beyond general harassment, a recurring theme across all the sessions — told through chilling anecdotes and statistics — was the extent to which online hatred is disproportionately directed toward women.

….Power players from companies like Facebook , Google and Cisco shared the stage with victims like Wu.

The volume of harassment — from bullying to revenge porn — is higher than ever, making it hard for platforms to respond quickly. Facebook head of policy management Monika Bickert said the company receives more than one million reports of violations from users every day — which it manually vets to determine their validity.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNNMoney that companies like Facebook are dealing with an incredibly high volume of messages, more than 4 billion daily.

Greenblatt, who previously worked as a special assistant to President Barack Obama, said he’s been the recipient of hateful tweets due to his role at ADL.

As for the summit, Greenblatt said the fact that key players gathered to spread awareness of the issue of harassment is a positive sign.

“It’s a first start,” he added. “[But] we’re certainly not where we need to be.”

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

SXSW Starts Fresh Controversy with Announcement of Online Harassment Summit

SXSW has announced the addition of a day-long Online Harassment Summit to SXSW 2016. The event was created to allay the outrage over their decision early this week to cancel a pair of gaming panels — one essentially about Gamergate, the other about anti-harassment efforts in gaming. However, some of the announced speakers are saying they may not participate, and others are criticizing the implied plan to include GamerGate allies Mercedes Carrera and Nick Robalik.

SXSW’s announcement of the Online Harassment Summit began with an apology:

Earlier this week we made a mistake. By cancelling 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, cancelling 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 free for the public throughout the day.

Key SXSW supporter BuzzFeed had publicly demanded both programs be restored, and that was a component of the announcement —

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.

Or at least it was expected to be. A post at Re/code now says SXSW bungled the announcement and panelists are pulling out.

“Level Up” panel organizer Caroline Sinders said —

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.

Antiharassment speaker Randi Harper is also critical of plans to include Gamergate panelists in the summit.

Katherine Cross, “Level Up” panelist and sociologist, wrote —

Other summit participants may follow the lead of the “Level Up” panelists if they decline to be involved.

Sarah Jeong, Contributing Editor at Vice’s Motherboard, warned, “If the original Level Up panel backs out, I will be backing out as well.”

Brianna Wu says, “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.”

Confirmed speakers originally announced by SXSW included —

  • 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)
  • Emma J. Llansó (Director, Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology)
  • 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)

SXSW May Host Antiharassment Programming

SXSW management is reconsidering its decision to cancel two gaming panels — one essentially about Gamergate, the other about anti-harassment efforts in gaming — due to the strongly negative reaction from key SXSW participants BuzzFeed and Vox Media, and the internet generally.

Vox Media outlet Re/Code reports, “SXSW festival organizers are considering an all-day event that focuses primarily on combating online harassment…. An announcement could come before the end of the week.”

Meantime, the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” panel has been reinstated, although panelist Randi Harper has said the original participants have not yet agreed to speak at SXSW. There is, as yet, no report of the pro-GamerGate item coming back, although BuzzFeed’s statement yesterday had called for both panels to be restored.

SXSW responded to the furor with a general statement, “Safety is a Top Priority and So is Your Voice”.

We want the SXSW community to know that we hear and understand your frustrations and concerns about the recent cancellation of two SXSW Gaming panels.

The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.

Moving forward, we are also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved.

We will provide more information soon.

The Guardian reports that “Neither organization [BuzzFeed and Vox] has yet confirmed whether they will attend if the all-day event goes ahead, or if only one of the two panels is reinstated.”

The Mary Sue observes that whatever the corporations arrange for this programming it’s the individual participants who bear the risks.

If these panels get reinstated because it’s a brand-conscious financial decision for SXSW, that might be considered a victory for some — but it’s a somewhat depressing one.

The multiple media companies potentially withdrawing their panels, as well as celebrity panelists speaking out against SXSW, has placed a lot of pressure on the conference to find a way to host this programming. But let’s not forget that the brunt of the pressure actually ends up on the shoulders of the marginalized people slated to appear on these panels, many of whom have faced even more threats this week due to the hyper-visibility of this ongoing controversy. What’s more, placing SXSW staffers and attendees in harm’s way seems irresponsible, especially if the conference truly does lack the resources to provide adequate security.

This has become a very thorny moral dilemma, with no simple answer.

Pixel Scroll 10/27 Return To Hedgehogwarts

(1) Bad science in sf I’m used to. On the other hand, this expose of Monty Python by medievalist Kathleen E. Kennedy is shocking! Her post for The Mary Sue, “Coconuts in Medieval England Weren’t as Rare as Monty Python and the Holy Grail Made You Think”, claims England was practically awash in coconuts – had he existed, King Arthur would have had no problem acquiring one.

(2) As a fan, when I see something like “15 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Original ‘Ghostbusters’”, I start jonesing to tell the headline writer that the original Ghost Busters was the working title of a Bowery Boys movie. But carry on….

Imagine Eddie Murphy and his fellow paranormal firefighters battling a motorcycle-riding skeleton and a giant lizard monster from their gas-station base in a futuristic New Jersey. Who you gonna call? Ghost Smashers!

By the time it became an instant classic upon its release in 1984, Ghostbusters had morphed through radically different iterations, featuring bonkers plot points and unrecognizable creatures. Those mind-blowing details are chronicled by Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History, author Daniel Wallace’s revelatory, self-explanatory new book due out this week, just in time for Halloween.

(3) I stopped to watch Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters music video while researching the previous item. That 1980s video did some nice things with neon lights. But it can’t hold a candle *coff* to the Halloween Light Show set to his vocals in this YouTube video — four singing pumpkin faces, tombstones, hand carved pumpkins, strobes, floods, two Matrix boards and thousands of lights.

(4) At this hour it may be hard to find anyone who hasn’t already read John Scalzi’s Whatever post titled “Here’s the Egregious, Mealy-Mouthed Clump of Bullshit That is the 2015 World Fantasy Convention Harassment Policy”.

I am not a lawyer, but I expect that ReedPOP, the company that runs [New York Comic Con] (among many other conventions around the US) has maybe a few lawyers on its staff. If NYCC is utterly and absolutely unafraid to promulgate a harassment policy even though there is a legal statute defining what harassment means in the state of New York, I expect it might have been possible for World Fantasy to have done likewise, if they chose to do so.

And I recommend reading Jesi Pershing’s comment on the post. (I’m unable to link to specific comments on Whatever, despite both it and File 770 running on WordPress….)

(5) Trae Dorn’s story at Nerd & Tie, “World Fantasy Convention writes the worst harasssment policy ever” doesn’t live up to the hyperbole of the headline, but it reflects the prevailing mood of the internet.

(6) Jim C. Hines weighed in with “Trying to Fix WFC’s Harassment Policy Problem”.

Can this actually be fixed?

Well, no. Not completely. You’ve pissed off a lot of people, and you’ve got nine days before the start of the convention. You can’t fix it. But you can work to make it better. Here are my suggestions, for what they’re worth.

A compelling observation was quoted from Natalie Luhrs’ post —

Keep in mind that, as Natalie Luhrs pointed out, “three of the last five World Fantasy Conventions had harassment incidents that were publicized: 20102011, and 2013.” This doesn’t include incidents that weren’t publicized.

However, it should be noted that other recent WFC’s have had genuine anti-harassment policies – the 2015 committee is an aberration in that respect.

(7) The headline for Arthur Chu’s post captures just what I think was really controlling SXSW’s decision to have these panels at all – “This Is Not a Game: How SXSW Turned GamerGate Abuse Into a Spectator Sport”. Chu also is very informative about the history about the anti-harassment panel proposal.

  1. Any “both sides” narrative is nonsense. Whatever harassment and abuse there was cannot have been at all symmetrical.

SXSW acknowledges this when they tell Randi Harper in an email they’ve “received numerous threats of violence regarding this panel (Level Up)” and a “civil and respectful environment seems unlikely.” You can see with your own eyes the degree of incivility and disrespect likely to occur at her panel by looking at the comment thread GamerGate left on PanelPicker. This started up in August and has only had time to fester since then.

By contrast, I don’t think anyone “anti-GamerGate” I’ve spoken to other than my fellow panelists was even aware a GamerGate panel was in the cards until it was announced last week. Feel free to search my own history on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. to see if you can find any mention of it.

(8) Chris Kluwe went straight for the jugular.

What you did, what you’re doing, is providing the blueprint for harassers and hatemongers as to how they win. From this point forward, any fringe group of spiteful lunatics can point to this moment and say, “We will silence the voices of anyone we dislike at SXSW, any view we disagree with, because we know the mewling slugs in charge have not the backbone to stop us. All we need to do is confront them with our vileness, and they will fold.”

And the worst part?

YOU are solely the ones responsible for this.

YOU decided that it was appropriate to give a group of harassers a platform to continue their wretched campaign of ignorance. No one forced you to bypass the application process, to slide this selection of charlatans and liars along back alley channels into the conference. (And by the way, it is beyond ironic that a group ostensibly about ‘ethics in journalism’ required such an unethical route.)

YOU chose to ignore the warnings of the women targeted, to dismiss their voices as unworthy of respect or consideration, and then had the gall to act shocked that a ‘movement’ known for its corrosive toxicity slimed its oh-so-predictable foulness in your direction after you invited them in.

(9) Today In History:

October 27, 1938 – Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcasts its adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Joe Bloch comments —

People have debated for decades just why the country was so willing to be fooled by the broadcast, and the question of whether or not Welles had an inkling of what would happen was never answered. It is certain that he denied it at a later Congressional hearing, but in subsequent interviews he answered the question rather coyly, implying that he might have known what could happen.

(10) Stop snickering about aliens, d’ye hear me? Astrophysics profession Adam Frank, co-founder of the 13.7 blog, says “Maybe It’s Time To Stop Snickering About Aliens”.

Boyajian and her co-authors considered a wide range of possibilities to explain the strange dips in the light coming from KIC 8462852. Nothing they dreamed up provided a really, really good explanation. And in the absence of that really, really good explanation, at least a few others have been thinking: “Aliens!” As Ross reports, Jason Wright of Penn State is already working on a paper suggesting we might be seeing a signature of extraterrestrial construction, a “swarm of mega-structures,” on a planetary system scale.

Now, at this point, I could start telling you about Dyson spheres and Kardashev Type II civilizations that engage in solar-system-spanning building projects (or even Vogon Constructor Fleets).

But I won’t.

That’s because the point today is not what KIC 8462852, in particular, might be telling us. The odds are high that a natural explanation will be found for the star’s flickering that has nothing to do with aliens.

Why take that stance? Well, aliens are always the last hypothesis you should consider. Occam’s razor tells scientists to always go for the simplest explanation for a new phenomenon. But even as we keep Mr. Occam’s razor in mind, there is something fundamentally new happening right now that all of us, including scientists, must begin considering.

Kepler and the many exoplanet-hunting missions coming next (JWST, PLATO, etc.) represent an entirely new way of watching the sky.

Telescope time has always been expensive — and there’s a lot of sky. In the past, astronomers didn’t have the technical capacity to continuously watch zillions of stars for long periods of time. The suns we astronomers did come back to again and again tended to be remarkable in one way or another (they flared or blew up periodically). But the exoplanet revolution means we’re developing capacities to stare deep into the light produced by hundreds of thousands of boring, ordinary stars. And these are exactly the kind of stars where life might form on orbiting planets.

(11) Tom Knighton says it’s only a “Supergirl Kinda-Review” but he covers a lot of ground as he fills in readers about last night’s series debut.

First, the casting was interesting, and I mean that in a good way.  Kara (aka Supergirl for those who don’t know) is, like her cousin, raised by human parents.  Her parents were played by…*drum roll please* Dean Caine of Lois and Clark and Helen Slater, the original live-action Supergirl.  Honestly, it make my inner geek giddy right there.

(12) All the other old-timers showed up in the latest Star Wars trailer. Where was Mark Hamill? The director has an answer — “J.J. Abrams addresses Luke’s absence from Star Wars trailers”

When asked what’s going with Luke’s lack of appearance in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers, director J.J. Abrams stated it’s part of the plan.

“These are good questions to be asking. I can’t wait for you to find out the answer,” he said. The fact Luke is being kept away from the promotional materials is “no accident,” he continued.

It actually goes a bit deeper than that. There was a leaked image of Luke Skywalker wearing what seemed to be standard Jedi robes that made the rounds, but Disney went to work pulling as many copies of the image from the internet as possible, including Twitter embeds.

(13) Gail Z. Martin suggests “Five Reasons Why Authors Do Blog Tours (And Maybe You Should, Too)” at Magical Words.

What’s a blog tour and why should you consider doing one?

A blog tour provides the opportunity for an author to be featured in guest posts on a number of other blogs, thus gaining visibility to the readers on all those sites. Likewise, an author who has a blog can do a tour on his/her own site by featuring a number of other authors on the site in a given period of time.

Two crucial elements separate a ‘blog tour’ from merely being a guest for the day on someone else’s blog. First, a blog tour generally involves guesting on multiple blogs or hosting multiple guests on your blog. And secondly, the activity occurs within a pre-defined (and advance-promoted) time period—perhaps a week or a month. In fact, blog tours work best when the bloggers and the guests promote the upcoming post—much like when a celebrity promotes being interviewed on TV. The author gets visibility, and perhaps new readers. The blogger gets traffic and well as visibility—and perhaps some of those visitors will come back time and again.

(14) Harlan Ellison is among the contributors to Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds, to be published November 1.

The stories explore such issues as the Holocaust and its long-term effects on subsequent generations, anti-Semitism in the mid- and late-20th-century United States, and the dark side of the Diaspora (e.g., the decline of revolutionary fervor, the passing of generations, the Golden Ghetto, etc.).

(15) And rather like Harlan Ellison, Wil Wheaton thinks the writer should get paid. His post “you can’t pay your rent with the ‘unique platform and reach our site provides’” tells why he told HuffPo to take a hike.

(16) Here’s somebody you don’t see at fan-run conventions every day… but he’ll be at Gallifrey One in 2016:

Sir John Hurt, who brought the ‘missing link’ in the Doctor’s past — the War Doctor, from the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” — to life, will be headlining the 2016 Gallifrey One convention, in an appearance sponsored by Showmasters Events.

(17) Remember that how that old statue of Lenin in a Ukraine town was rededicated to Darth Vader the other day? Well, sounds like old Darth is up to no good – just check out this story: “Chewbacca Arrested During Ukraine Elections”

The Wookiee is handcuffed and detained after supporting Darth Vader’s bid to be elected as Mayor of Odessa.

Yes, my friends, there’s trouble in unpronounceable city!

[Thanks to Steven H Silver, Martin Morse Wooster, Francis Hamit, JJ, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

BuzzFeed Threatens To Withdraw From SXSW Over Canceled Panels

BuzzFeed has protested SXSW’s cancellation of two gaming panels – one essentially about Gamergate, the other about anti-harassment efforts in gaming – and announced it will withdraw from SXSW unless the items are reinstated.

Here is the text of BuzzFeed’s message BuzzFeed sent to Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival Hugh Forrest:

Dear Hugh,

We were disturbed to learn yesterday that you canceled two panels, including one on harassment in gaming, in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight.

We hope you will reconsider that decision, and reinstate the panels.

Digital harassment — of activists of all political stripes, journalists, and women in those fields or participating in virtually any other form of digital speech — has emerged as an urgent challenge for the tech companies for whom your conference is an important forum. Those targets of harassment, who include our journalists, do important work in spite of these threats.

BuzzFeed has participated deeply in SXSW for years, and our staffers are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW 2016. We will feel compelled to withdraw them if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day — to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.

Fortunately, the conference is five months away. We are confident that you can put in place appropriate security precautions between now and then, and our security staff would be happy to advise on those measures.

The response to BuzzFeed’s stance on SXSW’s decision has ranged from pleasant surprise to sheer irony —

The Mary Sue’s coverage of the panel cancellation and BuzzFeed’s response also wondered whether there was an unstated reason for the decision —

Although Forrest makes no reference to this in the post, one might speculate that another reason for SXSW’s decision could be the known issues with the security budget for this massive conference. In other words, it’s possible that SXSW simply could not accommodate the security demands presented by hosting these two panels. However, that was not the reason provided…

Threats Cause SXSW 2016 To Cancel Two Gaming Panels

SXSW Interactive, citing “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming,” has canceled a pair of sessions about gaming planned for its March 2016 event in Austin.

“SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” was to have included several pro-Gamergate participants.

Nick Robalik and Perry Jones, both pro-Gamergate game developers, Mercedes Carrera, an adult film star who has become a vocal Gamergate supporter, and Lynn Walsh, an NBC producer and the president-elect for the Society of Professional Journalists, who appeared at a previous Gamergate gathering which organizers claimed had to be cancelled midway through the event due to bomb threats.

And “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” was to have fielded experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture: Caroline Sinders of IBM Watson, Gamasutra writer Katherine Cross, and Randi Harper of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.

Both panels were first announced seven days ago.

In an October 26 statement event management said —

SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.

However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not 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.

Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.

Randi Harper told Jezebel

that all the panelists are familiar with receiving threats and had been working with SXSW staff on safety. “We had been participating in an email discussion with SXSW about safety for our panelists. They seemed unconcerned at the time, so this was surprising.”

Meanwhile, The Open Gaming Society, the group behind “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” has announced they will go ahead and run their session independently.

A lot has happened since we submitted the panel, and we’ve been overwhelmed with both support and disdain. However, SXSW’s team has had to bear the brunt of the backlash. They received countless emails, phone calls, tweets, and messages across all social media both praising and condemning them for #SavePoint and the Level Up panel organized by Randi Harper. SXSW explained to us that they are a very neutral organization and wanted to provide a platform for both sides to speak on and have their voices heard. “We wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before” one SXSW official said in our phone conversation earlier today. SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another. We’re all very passionate about this medium and sometimes we let that passion get the best of us – and that’s on both sides of the table. This entire thing grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that they have had to deal with – and they hosted a panel on Snowden just a few years prior. Once the SXSW director got involved it was a done deal. The SXSW Interactive and their Gaming teams came together and made the decision to cancel both panels.

While this is disheartening news there is a silver lining. The Open Gaming Society believes in open discussions and would like to announce our “Plan B.” We formed this plan almost immediately after we submitted the panel to SXSW. Though SXSW has cancelled the panel, we still plan to have a panel regardless. This has been a backup plan from square one and now we are forced to act on it. We will organize, fund, and host the panel ourselves. We plan to do so around the same time as SXSW to allow for the largest possible audience.