South by Southwest Interactive

SXSW harassment dumpster fire concludes, for now, with poorly attended 'SavePoint' panel

A can of worms that just keeps opening

Posted March 15th, 2016

Story highlights
  • The panel followed Saturday's Online Harassment Summit at the same location.
  • Adult film star Mercedes Carrera dropped out of the panel.
  • The conversation largely focused on journalism ethics rather than harassment.

How do you conclude an ongoing, exhausting hot mess of an online saga that in October reached a peak when South by Southwest Interactive cancelled panels and received a firestorm of controversy?

Anticlimactically, it turns out.

On Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., SXSW Interactive hosted "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community," one of the panels originally canceled and put on its own spot in the schedule away from Saturday's Online Harassment Summit.

Put together by Perry Jones of the Open Gaming Society, it included president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists Lynn Walsh, indie game developer Nick Robalik and adult film actress Mercedes Carrera. Things started off controversially about 12 hours before the panel when Carrera dropped out, saying on Twitter that the festival asked her to delete Tweets and that she was refusing to do so to participate in a "small free event" (the panel).

"It is unfortunate," Jones said at the start of the talk, which attracted about 39 attendees, mirroring the underwhelming attendance at Saturday's event. 

The panel, which went more smoothly and calmly than anyone may have expected given its support by the #GamerGate community, was largely about the topic that has nearly become a meme for being parroted so much in those circles: "Ethics in games journalism." Much of that had to do with Jones, who kept the questions civil, the tone courteous and even the Q&A at the end of the panel on point, with only one incident of an attendee trying to promote a business instead of asking a relevant question.

Walsh, who works at NBC 7 in San Diego, was there largely to provide a journalistic perspective on how game reviewers and games journalists are supposed to behave (objectively and fairly, it turns out), while throwing doubt into some commonly accepted beliefs about online behavior: "I don't know if more men or more women are harassed online," she said at one point, a claim backed up by a several Tweets online pointing to research on the matter.

The panelists all agreed that journalists should be more transparent, unbiased, and do a better job of reaching out to gaming sources, especially those who don't agree with the narrative of activists such as Brianna Wu, and not just make those sources footnotes in their stories.

Robalik said he believes that the concerns raised at the Online Harassment Summit are largely overblown and the result of people not making use of the tools, such as blocking and muting, available on social media.

"“When you get down to it, it's Internet drama. It's not real life," he said.

He referred to "Bad actors" in the gaming community, apparently alluding to those who've told stories about being harassed online. 

"I would like to see a shift away from listening to the bad actors who only contribute negativity to the community in the guise of hiding behind important issues," he said. 

He said of journalists who cover issues around #GamerGate: "No one reaches out to us to talk about stuff. Getting reasonable answers doesn't get clicks." 

The "SavePoint" panel was not live-streamed by the festival. Five of the panels from Saturday not including "Level Up" were streamed and are now available on the SXSW site.
Much of the talk on Twitter about the panel had to do with attendance numbers, comparing them to the Online Harassment Summit as if it were a contest.

Questions still remain about what went on between Carrera and the festival over emails that led to her cancellation, whether the festival could have done a better job promoting the Online Harassment Summit and "SavePoint" panel and whether the Hyatt Regency venue, last-minute changes and concerns about safety (which included bag checks at both events) contributed to the level of attendance at each event. We'll be following up on these questions with the festival and participants of the panels.

James Gregg / AMERICAN-STATESMANAttendees of Tuesday's "SavePoint" panel at South by Southwest Interactive. The event was held at Hyatt Regency Austin.
James Gregg / AMERICAN-STATESMANAttendees of the "SavePoint" panel at South by Southwest Interactive, held on Tuesday, March 15. The event was held at Hyatt Regency Austin.