Q&A: Casey Slater on SXSW's Online Harassment Summit

The Summit is a first for SXSW Interactive and will take place all day Saturday.

Posted March 9th, 2016

Photos (l-r): Joanne St. Lewis (photo by Melanie Provencher), Michelle Dennedy, Rosalind Wiseman, Elisa Lees Munoz, Juniper Downs (photo courtesy Google), and Alon Bar David (photo courtesy Red Button). Photos via SXSW.com

Back in October, South by Southwest Interactive faced one of the worst PR challenges of its 23-year history: the cancellation of two panel, one related to online harassment and the other about gaming communities created a huge blowback and was met with the threat of boycotts from several media companies and panelists.

After a very bad week, the festival eventually announced an all-day Online Harassment Summit that will take place on Saturday, March 12 at the Hyatt Regency Austin. Speakers scheduled for the day of panels include Online Abuse Prevention Initiative founder Randi Harper, Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt, Massachusetts U.S. congresswoman Katherine Clark and former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.

The event is open to SXSW Interactive, Film, Gold and Platinum badgeholders.

Casey Slater, new initiatives coordinator at SXSW, spoke to us via email about what to expect at the Summit and how it came together:

512tech: What kinds of speakers and topics were most important to include in the summit? Were most of these, such as Level Up, already existing in the PanelPicker, or were new panels created specifically for this event?

Casey Slater: All but two panels were curated specifically for the summit after various meetings with our speakers, conversations with experts in the community and feedback from a panel survey that we sent out to all committed participants (at that time) in December. 

Back in October, the creation of the Summit felt like the answer to the problem SXSW Interactive was facing in criticism over canceling the Level Up and SavePoint panels. Were other options explored in ways to handle that crisis? 

Many ideas were considered on how to proceed after October. Ultimately, SXSW decided both panels had a right to share their views and were reinstated. We also realized there was a larger discussion to be had and the Online Harassment Summit was created. Online harassment is a serious and pervasive problem, and we hope this summit will address the issues that go far beyond than what SXSW experienced in the fall.

I’m planning to attend on Saturday, but one of the worries I have is that in putting all these panels in one location, that the people who go to seek out these panels at the Hyatt are likely to be highly invested in the topic. Is there a worry that the panels might be preaching to the choir? Are there ways the fest is hoping to get the message of these panels out to a broader audience than those who plan to seek out this event? 

 I wouldn’t mind a highly invested audience -- the speakers at this summit have traveled far to identify solutions to combat online hate and harassment. The summit has also been discussed extensively in the press and I think many are invested in being a part of the larger conversation. In terms of broadening the audience, we have partnered with numerous groups including GEER, Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas), the Anti-Defamation League and Intel, to assist in securing speakers and promoting the event. 

Is the Summit something the fest hopes to do again at future SXSWs or is this a one-time event? 

Online harassment is a very relevant topic -- but we won’t make any decisions on the 2017 event until after the 2016 event concludes.

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