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SXSW walks back its decision to cancel panels on gaming and harassment

Music and media conference South by Southwest has reversed its decision to cancel two panels related to online gaming and added an all-day summit on online harassment after widespread criticism.

On Monday, SXSW announced it would cancel “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” The first panel would have been a conversation on preventing online harassment using web design; the second contained panelists who are accused of perpetuating harassment toward women in the gaming community. The organization said it canceled the panels in response to “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming” in a statement.

Following the announcement, BuzzFeed and then Vox Media announced that they were pulling out of SXSW. “As a digital media company, our journalists often face online harassment,” Vox Media wrote in a statement. “By canceling the panels, [SXSW] have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today.”

By Friday, SXSW said it would add a full day of programming on March 12 on online harassment featuring panelists from the two canceled sessions along with 20 others. (PBS NewsHour will also present a panel, unrelated to online harassment, at the conference.) That addition came in response to criticism over the canceled panels, the organization said. “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,” its statement said.

Randi Harper, Katherine Cross and Caroline Sinders from “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” will be present, along with Perry Jones, Mercedes Carrera and Lynn Walsh from “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” Other panelists for the summit will include former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, writer Soraya Chemaly, Giant Spacekat head of development Brianna Wu and law professor Mary Anne Franks.

Controversy over the two panels largely centered on Gamergate, an incident that drew national attention to the issue of misogyny and harassment in gaming last year. Game developer Zoe Quinn and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian, along with many other high-profile women in the gaming community, reported receiving numerous rape and death threats online. Conversation around the issue used the hashtag #Gamergate.

The cancellation of the talks marked a continuation of the controversy.

Harper, one of the hosts of “Level Up,” said she was disappointed with SXSW’s decision to include the speakers from the other panel, some of whom are purported to have supported harassment against women. Perry Jones, who was supposed to moderate that panel, is accused of harassing Wu and has said his Twitter account was suspended after he tweeted at Wu.

This post has been updated.

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