SXSW 2016: Are Gamers Sexist? Online Harassment Summit Held Away From Main Venue

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Brianna Wu cofounder of Giant Spacekat

The SXSW?s Online Harassment Summit held in Hyatt Regency, Austin aiming to tackle the issues of online abuse and sexism directed towards women in social media and the gaming industry, saw sparse attendance amid tight security.

In October, organizers of South by Southwest festival had canceled a panel called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Gaming” presented by activist and programmer Randi Harper, IBM Watson interaction designer Caroline Sinders, and writer Katherine Cross, after it received “numerous threats of on-site violence.”

After facing massive public outcry and threats from some media outlets to boycott the entire SXSW event, organizers reversed course and announced an expansive, day-long summit of discussions on the subject.

Saturday?s summit held in a trio of ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency in South Austin, was a long way across the river from the Austin Convention Center, where most SXSW events are hosted. Despite heavy promotion, the sessions, were sparsely attended with 70 percent of the seats empty in the almost all the events. Most of these panels drew just the women and at least half of the attendees were reporters.

The security at the summit, too, was much tighter than typical SXSW events, and officers patrolled at the summit?s 15 panel discussions held in the Hyatt Regency in South Austin. It included bag checks upon entering the building, policemen outside of bathrooms and panels, and constant reminders not to leave bags unattended or they would be “confiscated and destroyed.” Each session was attended by a police officer who sat at the back of the ballroom surveying the crowd and looking for unattended bags.

Also the panels opened with a statement asking participants ?to act responsibly and treat each other with respect.? People were reminded that festival badges can be removed for ?inappropriate, disorderly or offensive? conduct, and there were numerous reminders to keep bags with you. This was all outside the norm for the conference, where people typically move freely from panel to panel and venue to venue throughout the day.

Brooklyn-based user researcher, Caroline Sinders, who planned the original event, told the BBC that she was worried about how isolated the event was from the main hub of SXSW action.

“As opposed to saying ‘everyone come over here’, I think a lot of these panels would have been better situated within SXSW.
“By creating a completely separate space for an online harassment panel, we are far away, we’re missing all these other people that maybe had no idea.”

Many prominent women were part of the attendees and panelists in the event that included video game developer Brianna Wu, politicians like Representative Katherine Clark, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator and representatives from Facebook, Google and Cisco.

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of policy management, said the social network receives 1 million reports a day of potential hate speech violations in comments, photos and videos. Facebook moves as quickly as possible to address incidents that could involve physical harm, but technological solutions were in short supply.

Representative Clark said she was proposing a federal bill that would increase training for law enforcement officials on investigating and prosecuting online harassment of women.

Much of the debated centered around the gaming industry which has become embroiled in a movement called ?#GamerGate in which video-game fans have lashed back aggressively online at criticism about sexism in gaming culture.

The movement which came into general public view about two years ago is about a group of people fighting against what they believe is unfair portrayal of video game enthusiasts as anti-feminists and misogynists. But, people associated with the movement have systematically targeted and attacked women online, including women game developers like Ms. Wu and Zoe Quinn as well feminist critics as such Anita Sarkeesian, who focuses often on video games and game culture.

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