Spotify’s New Anti-Hate Policy Muzzles R. Kelly

Spotify on Thursday announced a new policy governing hate content and hateful conduct.

The service identified as hate content anything that expressly and principally promotes, advocates or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual, based on characteristics including race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status or disability.

It may remove that content, in consultation with rights holders, or refrain from promoting or including it on its playlists.

Further, Spotify may amend the ways it works with or supports artists or creators who do something that is especially harmful or hateful, such as harm children or commit acts of sexual violence.

The service has built an internal content monitoring tool, Spotify AudioWatch, to identify content on its platform that has been flagged as hate content on specific international registers.

Users can notify Spotify if they think something is hate content, and it will review that content in light of its policy.

The service will look at the entire context, because cultural standards and sensitivities vary widely.

Spotify’s goal is to match its editorial decisions — what it chooses to program — to its values, the company said.

Keeping Its Promise

“It’s a ‘God and country’ issue,” remarked Russ Crupnick, managing partner at Musicwatch.

“Half the people will yell about freedom of speech and the other half will applaud Spotify for setting boundaries,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s a tough call.”

Spotify’s new policy follows its removal last summer of white supremacist acts the Southern Poverty Law Center had flagged as racist hate bands.

At the time, Spotify said it had undertaken a review of the possibility of blocking hateful content from future music recommendations.

Spotify has partnered with SPLC and other rights advocacy groups to help identify hate content. Others include the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Showing Up for racial Justice, GLAAD, and Muslim Advocates.

Spotify “is more aggressively deciding what to promote, and have clearly decided they will not promote artists they believe behave badly,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Crackdown on R. Kelly

The first artist impacted by Spotify’s new policy is R. Kelly, whose music has been removed from the streaming service’s algorithmic playlists, according to Billboard. Spotify no longer will promote Kelly’s music.

The singer has over the years been accused by multiple women of sexual violence, coercion, and running a sex cult. Accusers most recently told their stories involving Kelly to Buzzfeed last week.

Women of color who support the #Time’s Up movement have boycotted R. Kelly, using the tag #MuteRKelly.

The #MuteRKelly campaign has been “having a significant impact on firms like Spotify,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld, “not the least of which is, were a Spotify employee to sue for abuse, their backing of R. Kelly could make it look like they institutionally approve of abuse. That would likely end really badly for the firm.”

As a public firm, Spotify is open to more intense scrutiny than a private company and “it’s better to be ahead of the game instead of being in a quarterly earnings call and get questioned over carrying hate content,” Musicwatch’s Crupnick noted.

However, “This is a very tricky path to navigate,” observed Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“What if R. Kelly claims discrimination and files a lawsuit?” he asked. “Is refusing to promote him a form of discrimination under the law? Does the denial of promotion constitute a refusal to offer service?”

The test will be whether Spotify continues this policy, Jude told TechNewsWorld. “Consider rap music and how graphic that can be. Will Spotify impose restrictions on that when it has a huge following?”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

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