South By Southwest or SXSW is a series of film, media, and music festivals that are taking place now in Austin, Texas. And it’s a big deal – Obama spoke to day one, there are movie premieres, music releases and a heap of smart people will say smart things.

A few blocks away from the centre of the conference however, a panel event is taking place that is not in keeping with SXSW’s relaxed, welcoming vibe. Security guards greet and warn audience members of their obligations as they enter and Austin police survey the crowd, looking for trouble makers. This is the day long Online Harassment seminar, a series of panels talking about the objectification of woman in gaming, online bullying and strategies to make the internet – and gaming specifically – a safer, friendlier place.

‘Threatened the ‘deadliest school shooting in American history.’

The reason this forum was even considered was GamerGate, an online war between those who see free speech as an online must-have and those who want to see woman treated better, both on screen and in the industry itself. This dragged on (and is still dragging) as online personas took sides and a virtual war became very real as a number of outspoken woman developers and insiders were threatened, culminating in online feminist Anita Sarkeesian having to cancel a talk at Utah State University as a result of a threat to commit, “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” Indeed, SXSW tried to cancel the original two online harassment forums due to security concerns. This panel was only saved by BuzzFeed and Vox, the online media companies threatening to boycott the event if the event was not reinstated.

‘Any hate speech and you’ll be removed. No excuses and consider this your final warning.’

The panel began with a warning – any hate speech or harassment will result in your removal. The glares from police and security left none in the crowd doubting their resolve.

Experts from Google and Facebook spoke of the challenges facing industry, with Facebook’s Monika Bickert telling the audience that the social network receives an extraordinary one million complaints related to harassment and hate speech every single day. Even taking into account those who are trying to cause trouble or get revenge, it’s a staggering amount.

‘I’ve got thick skin, but even I’ve felt fear from online trolls.’ Wendy Davis, Former Texas Senator.

Cultural issues were also discussed – anonymity online, the ‘boys club’ in many internet based businesses and industries and the objectification of woman in gaming and on social networks. Former Texas Senator Wendy Davis spoke of her thick skin as a politician being put to the test and the powerlessness felt when abused by an invisible being.

There was a general consensus that the complexities of this topic reach far beyond a few trolls and lead to a cultural and technological issue. How to maintain the freedom of speech so valued by many members of the online community while stopping malicious and threatening attacks is a balancing act that will be discussed for many years to come.