'We Made a Mistake': SXSW to Host Online Harassment Summit

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By James Eng

The influential South by Southwest tech festival is doing an about-face after canceling two panel discussions about harassment and the online gaming community over purported threats of violence.

Following a barrage of criticism, SXSW admitted Friday that its decision to scrap the panels was a huge mistake. In lieu of the panels, SXSW said it would now host and livestream a daylong “online harassment summit” at SXSW 2016 in Austin, Texas, on March 12.

"Earlier this week we made a mistake. By canceling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry," Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive Festival, said in a statement posted Friday to the festival’s website.

SXSW’s decision earlier this week to cancel two scheduled panels about online harassment and gaming culture drew stinging backlash from women’s rights advocates, journalists, some gamers and others. Online media publications BuzzFeed and The Verge (in which NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, has a partial stake) separately announced they would boycott the festival unless the panels were reinstated.

"The resulting feedback from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear," Forrest wrote. "While we made the decision in the interest of safety for all of our attendees, cancelling sessions was not an appropriate response. We have been working with the authorities and security experts to determine the best way to proceed."

He added: "It is clear that online harassment is a problem that requires more than two panel discussions to address."

Related: SXSW Cancels Panel on Harassment Citing Threats of Violence

SXSW Interactive is an annual festival featuring original music, independent films and emerging technologies. The festival, which began in 1987, and has grown in size and scope each year and now attracts tens of thousands of attendees from more than 80 countries.