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 (
  • 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)

11 thoughts on “SXSW Starts Fresh Controversy with Announcement of Online Harassment Summit

  1. So SXSW invites harassers to an anti-harassment summit? I’ll need a new set of arms to accomodate all necessary facepalms.

  2. Randi Lee Harper said it very well, I thought:

    What SXSW did was equivalent to allowing a perpetrator of domestic violence to stand on a stage next to the woman he abused.

  3. Part of me will vastly enjoy the GG panel getting picked apart by the audience. I can already hear their cries of “Harassment”

    Remember, it’s only bad when *anything* critical is said about them. Bomb threats, harassment, swatting, stalking against people they’ve been targeting for over a year? Must be a 4chan troll. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

    Also making people who’ve been harassed to sit on the same panel with their harassers, or those providing cover for their harassment is a terrible idea.

  4. Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”

    Translation needed. I’ve never heard of the above three people, and the title of their talk means nothing to me. I infer from the rest of the items in the segment that others associate them/it with GamerGate, but that’s all I can infer–even after looking up “SavePoint” (for which I find only gaming defnitions and some sort of arcade company).

  5. Laura Resnick:

    Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera, and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”

    Translation needed.

    According to a post on Jezebel

    …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.

  6. Are the little boys that call in bomb threats going to be excluded too?
    Or does the fact that they were called in to interrupt Gamergate Meetups excuse that from being considered harassment?

  7. kentuckydan, I don’t understand your comment. Calling in a bomb threat (no matter who you claim to support, or who you’re threatening to bomb) is a felony. LINK. Anyone who does that should be prosecuted.

    Being excluded from a convention, a meetup, or a panel discussion should be the least of their worries at that point.

    “You’re convicted of a felony; you’ll be in jail for between one and twenty years and have to pay an enormous fine. Oh, and you can’t be on a panel at South By South West.”

    I mean, seriously? That’s the big stick?

  8. Pingback: SXSW Holds Online Harassment Summit | File 770

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