Monday, March 14, 2016

SXSW Panels On Online Harassment - We Need New Voices and Ears

There looked to be an interesting article on Forbes today, which reports 56% of gamers prefer to game alone. However with the changes to their website to promote anti-ad blocking (that nearly every user has to pass through their "check" screen to proceed) and then inundating their users with advertisements, I couldn't get past the first sentence without having to mute and smack X on every ad on the screen - and giving up and looking for something else to spend my time reading. So...thanks Forbes for once again confirming why everyone hates all of the advertisements and we just want our news. Ads are fine. But they shouldn't take up the entire screen and control the volume. The ads are so bad I'm not even linking to the article. So if you can find it on your own, hopefully it's a decent read. If you have any script or ad-blocking software, be prepared to turn them off and mute your speakers.

So let's talk about harassment in video games. Because we haven't posted about that 6 ways to Sunday. But it's important after this weekends SXSW conference kicked off with an entire day devoted to online harassment. If you recall in October, SXSW originally cancelled two panels covering the topic after the conference and the presenters received multiple threats of violence. The panelists wanted to continue, but after the car crash in 2014 that killed multiple people, the conference has been on edge and looked to safety first. A number of people complained about the cancellations, enough for SXSW to re-examine the panels and devote an entire day to online harassment. Clearly if people are going to send in death threats over a panel, it needs to be talked about. They moved the venue for the panels to a hotel across the river from the Austin Convention Center, beefed up security, and made it known at every panel that if you leave something behind the Austin police will deem it a threat and destroy whatever it is. Harsh. But understandable. SXSW didn't want to play around. The day-long series included former state senator Wendy Davis and a number of national names that have felt the brunt of online harassment.

Here's the downside: very few people attended that were not female or reporters. SXSW also cancelled one of the live-streamed events that was promised to the panelists. A few people remarked that if these panels were about online creativity or open-sharing there would be a more equal ratio of male to female in the audience. It also didn't help that the panels were taking place at another location off-site from the main SXSW activities. Given how terrible traffic is during the season, it's easily 15-20 minutes by car or bike, up to 30 by walking.

Maybe that's the thing we should be focusing on. These panels were so poorly planned in location, staffing, the over-zealous security (where nothing happened), and how repetitive the topic is to those who have heard it before. The panels didn't reach out to new voices - only to those who have been at the forefront of the debate since the beginning. It's not going to change the culture of online harassment until others hear about the issues. We need new voices in the community and new ears to take in the message.

Some of my male friends are still amazed to hear that I'm harassed when I'm playing a game. It's easy to forget, or overlook, that we're not as progressive of a society as we like to think we are. The government is quite persistent on regulating the health and welfare of women's bodies. Men? Not so much. Rogaine and Viagra are not taxed (only the male versions, mind you - the female counterparts are still taxed) but tampons and sanitary pads are (a medical need for 50% of the world). What an awesome first world country we live in that cares about women's rights!

Sarcasm aside, a number of men are unaware of online harassment being an issue until they face it themselves. And a simple block/report/ignore does not work because there is no punishment towards the harasser. It also further justifies the "just stay quiet" mindset people have regarding such situations (see sexual assault victims). Extreme? Maybe. But if you're reading this and you're not a woman, you probably don't know how often we are threatened with violence, assault, etc. on a daily basis when it comes to the internet.

Short of stopping every man on the street and shaking them to listen, think about their own grandmothers, mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, cousins, granddaughters going through the same thing, I don't know how to get them to listen. We need some ideas and progressive thought put into this to open up people's minds and see just how serious this really is.


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