Vox Media, Polygon's parent company, has issued a statement regarding its participation in SXSW 2016 after yesterday's cancellation of two gaming-centric panels.
Harassment is an issue Vox Media takes extremely seriously. As a digital media company, our journalists often face online harassment and find themselves on the receiving end of threats. We support our staff when they encounter this kind of abuse while continuing to do the work that can result in it, and want to continue an open dialogue about how best to do so.
By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today. We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them. Vox Media will not be participating in this year's festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us.
Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff is set to serve as a "featured speaker" at the event.
This is following in the footsteps of BuzzFeed which shared a letter addressed to Hugh Forrest, the director of the Interactive side of the SXSW festival, earlier today announcing its intention to withdraw from the event if the canceled panels weren't reinstated.
Both Vox and BuzzFeed want the programming committee at SXSW to reconsider its cancellation of the panels, "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" and "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community." The former was intended to highlight abuse in online gaming communities, as well as detail ways to combat it.
"Our panel was not about [GamerGate]," panelist Katherine Cross said on Twitter. "It was about the wider issue of harassment in the online world." Joining Cross on the panel was Randi Lee Harper, whose efforts to help combat harassment with the ggautoblocker resulted in her becoming the subject of even more harassment, and organizer Caroline Sinders, an interaction designer at IBM Watson whose exploration of GamerGate resulted in a SWAT team being sent to her mother's house.
"SavePoint," on the other hand, while presented as "neutral," was nevertheless coordinated in a notorious GamerGate subreddit under the topic name "SXSW #GamerGate Panel TOPIC Discussion." The panel as approved claims to support "the importance of journalistic integrity in video game's media [sic]," the movement's now meme-worthy red herring of a raison d'être. The Daily Beast's Arthur Chu has much more on the unusual circumstances behind the approval of "SavePoint" and the cancellation of both panels.
In his post explaining the decision to cancel the panels, Forrest said the organization had "received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming." This programming — in the case of the "Level Up" panel — being specifically about how people can deal with this kind of harassment.
We have reached out to a representative from SXSW for further comment.