March 9, 2020
They may be “social media,” but right now, hobnobbing with hordes of people is not their mission: Facebook, Netflix, TikTok, and Twitter have joined the growing list of companies—including Warner Music—that are dropping out of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, ABC News reports.
Apple is also, by many accounts, pulling out—but has not confirmed the rumors.
The tech, film, and music festival is slated to take place March 13 to 22 in Austin, Texas—and organizers said at a news conference on March 4 that the event is still scheduled to take place, as planned; and that canceling it wouldn’t make the community safer.
“Right now, there is no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer. We are constantly monitoring that situation,” Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director for Austin Public Health, told reporters. “One of the concerns is that if we shut down or make the recommendation to shut down South by Southwest, people will still continue to come here … but without that organizational structure that South by Southwest provides.”
Festival organizers are increasing the availability of hand-washing and sanitizing stations— as well as screening employees’ and volunteers’ temperatures—to help allay anxieties over COVID-19, Escott added.
Also on Wednesday, health officials in Texas announced the state’s first confirmed case of coronavirus in Fort Bend County, outside of Houston.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to be one of the event’s speakers, but his name no longer appears on the website, ABC News noted. “Twitter is implementing a mandatory global business travel restriction for our employees, effective immediately. This unfortunately includes SXSW,” a Twitter spokesperson told the nework news outlet.
A Facebook spokesperson similarly said, “Due to concerns related to coronavirus, our company and employees will not be participating in SXSW this year.”
Netflix and TikTok also both confirmed to ABC News on Thursday, March 5, that they would not be participating. Apple did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment, although Reuters reported that the company had opted not to attend.
Organizers and the city of Austin have faced widespread calls to call off the festival this year. A Change.org petition calling for it to be canceled had garnered nearly 50,000 signatures as of Thursday.
Calling off the festival would be a major blow to the local economy. The gathering injects up to $350 million into Austin’s economy, according to a 2018 analysis by Greyhill Advisors, funded by South by Southwest.
Research contact: @ABC
Editor’s note: Under pressure to keep a lid on COVID-19, Austin has canceled SXSW, as of Friday night, March 6.