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BuzzFeed Threatens To Withdraw From SXSW Over Canceled GamerGate Panels

After SXSW canceled panels in response to threats, BuzzFeed said it would withdraw from the digital media festival.

BuzzFeed Threatens To Withdraw From SXSW Over Canceled GamerGate Panels
[Photo: Alfie Photography via Shutterstock]

A decision by South by Southwest to cancel two panels related to gaming and online harassment has led BuzzFeed, a major presence at the popular digital festival, to threaten to withdraw its presence from the upcoming Austin event. On Monday, SXSW leadership canceled two panels related to gaming and online harassment and the GamerGate controversy of 2014, citing threats of violence. The two panels were called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.”

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BuzzFeed typically hosts several large parties and events at the annual conference. At time of writing, BuzzFeed employees and talent are scheduled to participate in six panels at SXSW. Although no BuzzFeed-affiliated individuals were on either of the canceled panels, GamerGate was a major coverage area for BuzzFeed in 2014.

In an email to SXSW Interactive festival director Hugh Forrest, three BuzzFeed executives asked that SXSW reconsider its decision to cancel the panels.

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.
We look forward to your reply.

Ze Frank
President
BuzzFeed Motion Pictures

Dao Nguyen
Publisher
BuzzFeed

Ben Smith
Editor-in-Chief
BuzzFeed

The organizers of “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” reported receiving multiple threats over their SXSW appearance. Events featuring speaking engagements related to GamerGate have been shut down by bomb threats multiple times in the past.