Feb 23 2021

Australian Art Institutions Banned by Facebook

by Celina Lei

Courtesy Shutterstock.

Facebook’s overnight ban on Australian news outlets as a retaliation against the country’s passing of the News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code disabled more than 500 Australian art-related Facebook sites on February 18. While the platform tried to restore the pages of galleries and museums wrongfully identified as news outlets within one day, some organizations are still banned as of today. 

Under the ban, users in Australia are only able to view the institution’s basic information on its Facebook page, and no posts or photos. Pages of major institutions have mostly been restored, including Melbourne’s Buxton Contemporary, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney. The national galleries such as Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra were not affected. 

Others, however, are still trying to retore their main media channel. ArtsHub, a major resource platform for the Australian cultural sector and one of the first to raise awareness of the ban, along with its associated film publication ScreenHub, remains restricted. The group tweeted on February 18, redirecting followers to “Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and even MySpace.” Writer and film critic Luke Buckmaster tweeted in sympathy on the same day, saying that “it’s hard enough running an entirely arts & culture-dedicated Australian publication, without Facebook’s jiggery-pokery.”

The ban has severely impacted normal operations for some. The Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery in Queensland had to issue an announcement hours before its 2021 awards ceremony on February 19, stating that “we intended to livestream [the event] on our Facebook page, but we have been blocked by Facebook.” Likewise, board member of Melbourne’s LGBTQIA+ Midsumma Festival, Michael Parry, who wanted to use the platform to promote its April 19 event, tweeted his disbelief last Thursday upon discovering Facebook’s ban of the Festival’s page. The page was resumed shortly after his post. On the same day, Tasmanian initiative Big hART, which caters to the disadvantaged, tweeted its frustration at being disconnected from “high needs disadvantaged communities” before having its page restored on February 19. 

The News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code was passed by Australia’s House of Representatives on February 17, requiring tech companies such as Facebook to obtain permission for publishing original content by Australian media outlets. In response, Facebook released a statement criticizing the action, deeming that the government “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers,” and imposed a ban of all Australian news content. 

Facebook and Australian lawmakers in the Senate reached a last-minute compromise on February 23, giving Facebook a two-month window to make commercial arrangements that show a “significant contribution” to local journalism. Facebook has pledged to restore any pages that are still blocked within the coming days.

Celina Lei is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific

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