Tech’s Harassment Problem Is Much Bigger Than This SXSW Catastrophe

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

SXSW Pulls Sessions On Gaming Culture After Threats Of Violence.

SXSW — the music and interactive media conference that takes place in Austin, Texas, each year — has a controversy on its hands. After abruptly canceling two video game-related panel discussions Monday due to threats of violence, the popular tech-meets-culture South By Southwest Festival is now facing criticism from media outlets that had planned to attend the Austin, Texas, event in March. In response to SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest’s decision to scrap two sessions — “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” — online media site BuzzFeed and Vox Media, parent company of tech news site The Verge and video game news site Polygon, threatened on Tuesday to withdraw from covering and participating in the festival if the panels were not reinstated. “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,” said a letter signed by BuzzFeed’s publisher Dao Nguyen, editor-in-chief Ben Smith and BuzzFeed Motion Pictures president Ze Frank.

In the statement released by SXSW the festival states, “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.” The festival got one thing right today: They are a marketplace of ideas from which lots of valuable conversation has emerged. The festival organized two panels for its March 2016 event covering the treatment of women in video games, along with the ugly reactions that calls for change can provoke. Vox Media, in its statement, said that “by approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. A situation as volatile as the online gaming community is currently witnessing, with its culture of harassment, requires exactly what SXSW is denying it — a platform to talk about the problem and come up with solutions.

The conversation around women’s rights online doesn’t need to center around the GamerGate controversy that propelled this topic into the public eye over a year ago. Video games are no longer something “nerdy” boys play to pass the time; they’re becoming a widespread activity and communal space enjoyed by all genders and ages – it’s even considered a sport these days. If SXSW can let threats scare them away from providing a platform for change, they have to also think about the women who will continue to be treated unequally in a realm where an active portion of the male community still believes they don’t belong.

SXSW organizers got a small taste of what women must experience and, by canceling the panels, have taken away what could have been a productive public discussion about harassment that isn’t always seen but continues to permeate the Internet. Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations of the advocacy group American Association of University Women, applauded the reaction of Vox and Buzzfeed.

Among them: game developer Zoe Quinn, whose online harassment and rape threats ignited the controversy in August 2014; Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic and creator of the Tropes vs. We put metal detectors in the building and we had security presence there,” Heider said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t take threats seriously, but it also doesn’t mean cancel the event because of a threat.” Now, several publications that typically fuel the tech/business-centric festivities at SXSW are refusing to partake unless the festival starts taking harassment seriously. Often using #gamergate, some gamers have taken to social media to both contend that video game journalists are at times unethical when it comes to game reviews, and to complain about political correctness in game development.

I would be surprised if you don’t see a university group or the like in Austin picking up where SXSW has dropped the ball and hosting a panel about online harassment in the near future. A debate in the video-game industry has raged for more than a year, with industry critics questioning the way women are portrayed, and how they are represented and treated behind the scenes.

Women who have spoken out have been attacked and sometimes threatened by online commentators who view negative descriptions of gaming culture as unfair. The #Gamergate issue was not stated in either of the panels’ program description, but some of the planned panelists had been publicly vocal on the issues.

Wu, who is scheduled to participate in two other 2016 SXSW panels, on Twitter suggested she might bow out, too. “I’m not going to be comfortable participating in @SXSW if they don’t change course,” she posted. “This is where you show your character.” SXSW festival organizers were not reachable for additional comment.

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