Arts sector speaks out over Facebook changes

What does Facebook’s change to content sharing mean for arts organisations? We asked the sector about what is being described as 'a cowardly response'.
Arts sector speaks out over Facebook changes
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Gina Fairley

Thursday 18 February, 2021

Arts organisations woke on Thursday morning to find that they could no longer share news and articles on Facebook. The social media giant has made the changes in response to the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, preventing the sharing of Australian news.

But among the organisations blocked were a number of community pages, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Services, and arts and cultural organisations – which on first glance has applied a loose definition of ‘news publishers’.

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But it is totally random. For example Bathurst Regional Gallery has been hit by the change, while the National Gallery of Australia hasn’t.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union for Australia’s journalists, performers and artists, described the decision as ‘a desperate act of a company with too much power that thinks it is beyond the reach of any government.’

The MEAA continued that the block will ‘encourage the spread of misinformation at a time when factual and credible journalism is more important than ever.’

‘A desperate act of a company with too much power that thinks it is beyond the reach of any government.’

- Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance

‘Unlike Google, which has sensibly begun negotiating content agreements with publishers and broadcasters, Facebook has abused its dominant position and is holding Australian news agencies, advertisers and consumers to ransom with this cowardly response,’ the MEAA said.

What does it mean for arts organisations?

Over 14 million Australians connect on Facebook every day. As Rachel Arndt, Acting CEO Museums & Galleries NSW told ArtsHub: ‘It’s social media; it is meant to be social and about sharing and creating connections, and creating communities.’

She said that the regional gallery and museum sector is particularly vulnerable to the changes, many of which do not have their own websites and rely heavily on the platform to dissemination information and connect widespread communities by sharing through groups.

Arndt continued: ‘It is a concern for us and the sector. Our Facebook is down and two regional galleries contacted us this morning with their pages down as well … this will have a massive impact on visitor access and programming, just when recovery after COVID was underway.’ 

Among those to be blocked is Big hART, an organisation that uses the arts to navigate disadvantage.

Spokesperson for Big hART, Bettina Richter said: ‘Our role is to tell invisible stories, and to raise awareness of communities and issues which are not included in the national debate.

'Our Facebook community is important to us, it's the way we share all the fantastic achievements of our participants, it's our biggest online audience, and also connects directly to the people we work with in community. Without Facebook, it's a dire blow.' She said the organisation is due to open an exhibition drawn from the Indigenous community of Roebourne, which is reliant on Facebook to promote it.

'Not being able to promote our event on Facebook, not being able to share positive reviews and stories about the event affects people, affects these communities.' 

Also working in advocacy and impacted by the ban is the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

CEO, Robyn Ayres, told ArtsHub: ‘It is very heavy-handed behaviour by Facebook to block access to a very broad range of organisations which provide vital information and resources to the Australian community.

‘Whilst news publishers have a legitimate argument about being paid by Facebook for the publication of original content (via the media bargaining code), Facebook appear to have applied to the ban indiscriminately as a form of retaliation, and it certainly demonstrates what monopoly power looks like,’ she continued.

Ayres made the point that it is important people understand that they can still get the information they need directly from organisations’ websites, as well as LinkedIn and Twitter.

The peak body NAVA – the National Association for the Visual Arts – has also been impacted. General Manager Penelope Benton told ArtsHub: ‘Sharing links to relevant news articles and opinion pieces is key to NAVA's advocacy work.’

Her comment is echoed by Accessible Arts – the NSW peak art body for arts and disability – which has also been impacted. They told ArtsHub the change will limit their organisational impact.

Accessible Arts Interim CEO Morwenna Collett added: 'We work hard to get media coverage of people and issues related to arts and disability, so this will have consequences for our advocacy and engagement efforts. Facebook has become an important news source for people across the arts sector so limiting access to the news we produce will make it harder to create the change and connections we want to make.'

Benton continued: ‘The Facebook news ban completely freezes one of our most significant avenues to communicate important legislative changes to our Members and broader network of friends and followers. The ban also blocks the way we raise awareness and start conversations with artists and organisations about what's happening locally and internationally.’

‘The impact of these changes is immense, and from what we've been unpacking today, it's worse than anticipated.’ she said.

One of the problems is that the definition of what's being considered 'news' is incredibly broad, said Benton.

Big hART, Richter's added: 'ArtsHub plays an important role in the industry, unlike any other. The impact of Facebook restricting ArtsHub's presence will impact the entire industry… [it's] is an independent voice in the wilderness, and their continued support of the arts and cultural industry in Australia is integral. 

‘Once again, it's the small independents, like ArtsHub and ourselves that are impacted.'

Arts organisations impacted by the ban

The following arts organisations were known to be impacted by the ban as at 4pm Thursday 18 February:

UPDATE: The situation is changing constantly. Some organisations have been reinstated in part, or in full – others remain offline. This list reflects those initially interrupted.
 
  • 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art
  • Accessible Arts 
  • ACMI
  • Adelaide Festival Centre
  • Art Gallery of Ballarat
  • Artlink
  • Arts Access Australia
  • Arts House
  • Arts North West 
  • Arts Northern Rivers
  • Arts on Tour
  • Arts Law Centre of Australia
  • Arts Upper Hunter
  • Ausdance ACT
  • Ausdance National
  • Ausdance Victoria
  • Australasian Dance Collective
  • Arts Central Queensland Inc 
  • Australasian Dance Collective
  • Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA)
  • Australian Arts Review
  • Australian Book Review
  • Australian Brandenberg Orchestra
  • Australian Chamber Orchestra
  • Australian Library and Information Association
  • Australian Museums and Galleries Association
  • Australian Plays
  • Australian Poetry
  • Australian Publishers Association (APA)
  • Australian Queer Archives
  • Australian Society of Authors
  • Australian Youth Orchestra
  • Back to Back Theatre
  • Ballarat International Foto Biennale
  • Bangarra Dance Theatre
  • Bathurst Regional Gallery
  • Bell Shakespeare
  • Big hART
  • Black Swan State Theatre Company
  • BlakDance
  • Bleach Festival
  • Blue Mountains Cultural Center
  • Books and Publishing
  • Bond University Film & Television Awards
  • Brisbane Writers Festival
  • British Council Australia
  • Buxton Contemporary
  • Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
  • Cairns Performing Arts Centre
  • Canberra Theatre Centre
  • Carriageworks
  • Castlemaine Art Gallery
  • Casula Powerhouse
  • Centre for Contemporary Photography
  • Chamber for Arts and Culture - Western Australia
  • CircuitWest
  • Co3
  • Copyright Agency
  • Craft ACT
  • Creative Arts Alliance Queensland
  • CutCommon
  • Darwin Festival
  • Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS)
  • Documentary Australia Foundation
  • Eastern Riverina Arts
  • Ensemble Theatre
  • Emerging Writers Festival
  • Express Media
  • Feminist Writers Festival
  • Feral Arts
  • Freeplay Independent Games Festival
  • Forum Melbourne
  • Garland Magazine
  • Glasshouse Port Macquarie
  • Gleebooks
  • Gold Coast Film Festival
  • Gondwana Indigenous Choir
  • Griffin Regional Theatre
  • The Griffyn Ensemble
  • Guildhouse
  • CutCommon
  • Kim Herringe Art
  • Home of the Arts (HOTA)
  • Ilbijerri Theatre Company
  • Illuminart
  • Information + Cultural Exchange
  • Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
  • Jetty Memorial Theatre
  • Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre
  • John Curtin Gallery
  • Journal for Artistic Research
  • La Mamma Theatre
  • Luminescence Chamber Singers
  • Limelight Magazine
  • Live Performance Australia
  • Made in West Film Festival
  • Malthouse Theatre
  • Meanjin Quarterly
  • Melbourne Women in Film Festival
  • Merrigong Theatre Company
  • Metro Arts
  • Museums & Galleries of NSW
  • Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV)
  • Music Tasmania
  • MusicNSW
  • National Association of Visual Arts (NAVA)
  • National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)
  • Overland Literary Journal
  • Penrith Regional Gallery
  • Perth Concert Hall
  • Princess Theatre Launceston
  • Queensland Poetry Festival
  • Queensland School of Film and Television
  • Regional Arts Network Tasmania
  • Regional Arts WA
  • Screenwave International Film Festival 
  • Screenhub
  • Seesaw Magazine
  • Senses of Cinema
  • Shoalhaven Regional Gallery
  • Splendour in the Grass
  • Suzy Goes See
  • Stanthorpe Regional Gallery
  • Sydney Coliseum Theatre 
  • Sydney Writers Festival
  • The Art House Wyong
  • Theatre Royal Hobart
  • UQ Art Museum
  • West Australian Ballet
  • Western Australia Symphony Orchestra
  • Witness Performance
  • Women’s Art Prize Tasmania
  • Writing NSW
  • The Writing Platform
  • Writers Victoria
  • Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
 

If your organisation has been impacted by the Facebook news ban, please contact us at editor@artshub.com.au.

Agentry are compiling a Google doc of impacted arts orgs where you can add your organisation's name.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
Instagram: fairleygina