This week, South by Southwest Interactive announced that, due to threats of violence at the 2016 conference, it has canceled two panels devoted to discussions of culture in the gaming community. We, the undersigned freedom of expression advocates, condemn the tactic of silencing speakers through threatening violence and harassment and urge SXSWi to reverse this decision and reinstate the panels.
An environment pervaded by harassment can have a serious chilling effect on constructive dialogue. But one of the most pernicious forms of harassment is the heckler’s veto: the ability of an agitator to silence another speaker by shouting them down. When an institution decides to support the heckler over the person who is being targeted, it only serves to strengthen the power of this cowardly tactic.
It is important for SXSWi organizers to focus on promoting the safety and security of all panelists and attendees, but this should be done in a way that creates — not forecloses — opportunities for discussion. In his statement announcing the cancellation of the panels, the Director of SXSWi expresses concerns about harassment leading to a “compromised” environment within the community of SXSWi attendees.
But the decision to cancel panels, effectively declaring these topics off-limits, has already distorted the marketplace of ideas at SXSWi. It is an irony beyond belief that SXSWi has allowed panelists attempting to engage the SXSWi community in a dialogue about combating online harassment to be harassed into silence.
As speakers on the SXSWi panel “How to Fight ISIS Without Breaking the Internet”, we strongly support finding alternatives to censorship when addressing challenging topics. We call on SXSWi to reinstate the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” panels while taking appropriate measures to ensure the physical security of all panelists and participants who attend the conference.
Shahed Amanullah, Co-Founder, Affinis Labs; CEO, LaunchPosse
Emma Llanso, Director, Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology
Andrew McLaughlin, Partner, betaworks
Rebecca MacKinnon, Director, Ranking Digital Rights