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VidCon CEO addresses last year’s Anita Sarkeesian incident: ‘We made a mistake’

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More security, staff will be added to try and prevent another incident

VidCon Viacom

Last year’s VidCon, a fan-driven convention that brings YouTube creators, Twitch streamers and other influencers together with their most dedicated supporters, was marked by one particular panel that featured Feminist Frequency founder, Anita Sarkeesian.

VidCon’s CEO, Jim Louderback, is now calling everything that happened that day a mistake that the organization has learned from.

At VidCon 2017, Sarkeesian appeared on a panel titled Women Online, and explored subjects like harassment that women often face on the internet. It’s a topic Sarkeesian knows intimately; she was one of the primary targets during GamerGate, a harassment campaign that targeted women in the games industry masked as a fight for ethics in games journalism, and still faces backlash today for her Tropes vs. Women documentary series.

While Sarkeesian is used to speaking in front of large crowds, her VidCon appearance was made more stressful by the appearance of a few notorious YouTubers who have antagonized her over the year, including Carl Benajmin (aka “Sargon of Akkad”) and Dave Cullen. When Sarkeesian addressed Benjamin and his pals sitting in the first few rows in an attempt to antagonize her, Benjamin started yelling back about his right to debate her. A statement released by VidCon following the panel called out Benjamin, Cullen and others’ for “intentional intimidation,” adding that “the panelists were understandably on edge throughout the discussion.”

Cullen said their attendance at the panel wasn’t malicious, but added they got a kick out of being there, saying it was “such an adrenaline high to be there in the situation, to shit-post, in this trolling kind of way.”

Louderback said that he and the VidCon team learned from what happened at the panel, and are taking measures this year to try and ensure that doesn’t happen again including adding more security to panels that may get out of hand and additional VidCon staff.

“As we get better every year we’re like, ‘Oh, we made a mistake there,’” Louderback said. “We’re just going to make sure we don’t let that happen this year. We’ll have some more senior VidCon staff at some of the sessions that we probably think this could happen. But if anything happens we’ll actually have staff that are empowered to smooth it out if we need to. We want to stand for speakers, too. We’re going to still worry about that. I felt so bad for Anita. It was a tough one. It’s a real tough one.”

Louderback didn’t say anything about banning or refusing entry to YouTubers known for inciting harassment toward others, but it’s something that Sarkeesian told Polygon last year she hopes the staff consider. She told Polygon the following after VidCon and her panel came to an end:

When push comes to shove, conventions like VidCon should stand up and support women and other marginalized folks who are harassed. Why should I have to go out there in this toxic environment? Why aren’t these men punished for creating that environment? After all, this is a conference about online video culture attended primarily by YouTubers, and it’s no secret that YouTube has an incredibly toxic culture.

It’s critical that events like VidCon recognize that and implement policies that prevent that toxicity from bleeding over into the event. No YouTube creator who makes videos that serve to target and harass individuals should be allowed to attend, and anyone who uses material filmed at a convention to harass individuals should be blacklisted from future events.

Louderback told Polygon part of the mission to protect speakers and ensure this type of situation doesn’t occur again is looking at panels that may feature “divisive issues,” and increase the number of security and VidCon employees at those events.

“One of the things that we look at every time now when we see something that potentially has a divisive issue is making sure that we’ve got more VidCon staff there to be able to deal with and handle it,” Louderback said. “We don’t want to shy away from a hard questions or hard issues, but we’re trying to get better every year.”

VidCon runs from June 20 through June 23.