Another one for the HUGE GIGANTIC IRONY file: A panel on online harassment, scheduled for the 2016 SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, was cancelled today due to threats of violence.
The panel organizer, Caroline Sinders, got an email from SXSW organizers explaining that the panel wouldn’t be happening because
we have already received numerous threats of violence regarding this panel, so a civil and respectful environment seems unlikely in March in Austin.
The note went on to explain that “[f]or this reason, we have also cancelled other sessions at the 2016 event that focused on the Gamergate controversy.”
By “other sessions” SXSW actually meant only one other session, a putative discussion of “the Gaming Community” featuring a panel of Gamergaters.
The panel on harassment, while featuring Gamergate critics/targets Randi Lee Harper and Katherine Cross, was not intended to be an anti-Gamergate panel as such, but a wider discussion of harassment online.
SXSW’s public statement on the cancellation of both panels, which echoed some of the language of the email sent to Sinders, had a weird, victim-blamey tone to it. Declaring that “SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas,” the statement went on to explain why SXSW had tossed both panels out of the tent:
[P]reserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. 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.
Of course, the “marketplace of ideas” is also compromised if harassers can shut down discussions they don’t like with threats.