BuzzFeed Tuesday took a stand against South by Southwest's decision to cancel two panels about gaming and harassment of women after receiving threats of violence. "We were disturbed to learn yesterday [Monday] that you canceled two panels, including one on harassment in gaming, in response to the sort of harassment the panel sought to highlight," editor-in-chief Ben Smith, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures head Ze Frank and publisher Dao Nguyen wrote in an open letter to SXSW director Hugh Forrest.
"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," the letter added. "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."
The signatories urged Forrest to provide the events with proper security and stand behind the principle of free speech and the open exchange of ideas.
The panels in question, including one titled “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games," reignited the movement known as "Gamergate," a nebulous group of gamers known for coordinated online harassment against women in the gaming community. In fact, Utah State University canceled a talk last year due to a shooting threat against critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has been forced to travel with armed guards.
Women attacked by the Gamergate cohort range from journalists to developers to gamers themselves.
The SXSW panels were set to feature women who had been targeted by such types of harassment in the past, described by many Gamergaters as a false narrative pushed by a media looking to slander and discredit their self-identified counterculture.
“We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic,” Forrest said in a statement Monday. “However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.”