FAKE NEWS: “Don’t let truth get in the way of good advocacy!”
“…we risk legitimising the views of those we condemn: the extreme right, the fascists, and others who spread dubious claims online. If we want to promote critical thought and dialogue, we have the opportunity to lead by example.”
Everywhere you look, one can find accusations and perpetrators of ‘fake news’. ‘Fake news’ becomes an easy target to dismiss the opinions of those we disagree with, whichever side of the political spectrum one is from. The Arts and artists, as natural supporters of social justice and progressive issues, are very much a part of this trend. When fighting for the Arts, surely we have a responsibility to check our facts and make doubly sure our assertions are plausible. Anything less than that risks adding fuel to the fire of those who claim the Arts are the sole fancies of an irresponsible and entitled ‘left’, and potentially creates a barrier in promoting the social change that many of us aspire to. There has recently been a viral social media meme that claims “The Arts employs more people than mining and sells more tickets than sport – Arts Matter”. Perhaps you have seen it, or maybe shared it. This particular campaign seems to have been instigated by the admirable MEAA (the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance), and at last count was shared almost 1000 times over Facebook.
Fact check: Does the Arts employ more people than mining?
The intent behind this type of advocacy is noble, and motivated by a legitimate desire to relate the fundamental importance and relevance of the Arts to the lives of so many Australians. However, the statement (at least the first one), simply isn’t correct. The claim that the Arts employs more people than mining is based on ABS data that records 1.7% of the Australian workforce is in Mining, compared to 2.0% in Arts and Recreation Services. On the surface, this may seem like compelling evidence. However, the ‘Arts and Recreation’ category includes all those who are employed in sport, gambling, horse and dog racing, and parks and gardens. It includes everyone who works in a gym, or at a recreational tourist attraction. Whilst it is plausible to say that more people are employed in ‘Arts, Recreation, and Sport’ compared to mining, it is misconstrued to limit this to the ‘Arts’. Additionally, I would suggest that the second claim that “The Arts sells more tickets than sport” is a risky advocacy tool. Suggesting that there is some ideological battle between ‘sports’ and the ‘arts’, may be effective in entrenching the views of sport-hating arts-lovers, but does little to sway anyone’s opinions of the value of the Arts (and is a little ironic, given the basis of the first claim). I haven’t seen any source for this claim (I would be fascinated to look through such data if it did). No data jumps out when searching online, although I am confident that if it were found, it would support the fact that both the Arts and Sport contribute significant amounts to the greater well-being of our country.
The responsibility of the advocate
Advocating for the importance of the Arts is critical, but sometimes the temptation of making conflated claims doesn’t necessarily help the cause. However, factual inaccuracies and mistakes happen, and misinformation is published all the time. The claim that the Arts employs more people than mining can be traced back to at least 2015, and has been published by reputable arts journals and agencies. It has even been used as ammunition to fight equally incorrect claims from the other side of the argument. It seems alarming that such claims can be shared so ferociously, with little attempt to fact-check. These claims simply become ‘true’ based on how often it has been shared. There are plenty of well-tested resources which can help change Australia’s discourse to one that truly values the arts and understands the essential impact of creativity. Promoting the many people that are engaged in the Arts, as the MEAA has attempted to do, is a wonderful way of doing this. But perpetuating myths that are not based on fact can be counterproductive, and is no different to the ‘fake news’ we often fight against, even if it is done unknowingly and unintentionally. The erroneous view that the Arts employs more people than mining spread like wildfire. So please, consider fact-checking before you share. If we don’t, we risk legitimising the views of those we condemn: the extreme right, the fascists, and others who spread dubious claims online. If we want to promote critical thought based on rigorous information with respectful debate and dialogue, we have the opportunity to lead by example.