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Spotify ‘hateful conduct’ policy must be handled carefully


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Spotify has announced a new policy on how it deals with hateful content on its platform. It comes with an internal content-monitoring tool called Spotify AudioWatch, which will scan the service’s catalogue for music that has been “flagged as hate content on specific international registers” so that it can be removed from Spotify.

Partners for this element of the new policy include The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), GLAAD, Muslim Advocates, and the International Network Against Cyber Hate.

At first glance, it’s a careful, well-thought-through approach to a problem that has seen headlines generated in the past when (for example) neo-Nazi tracks have been found on Spotify.

However, a second plank to the new policy, covering “content that is not hate content itself, but is principally made by artists or other creators who have demonstrated hateful conduct personally”, has the potential to create more headaches for Spotify if mishandled.

In short: “in some circumstances, when an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator”. So it’s not about removing music from Spotify, but rather about not playlisting or promoting it.

R.Kelly is one of the first artists to be named by Spotify as being affected: “We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly,” the company told Billboard. Rapper XXXTentacion also appears to have been scrubbed from Spotify playlists as part of the new policy.

Here’s where the sensitivities come in. R.Kelly’s management team has already criticised the move, claiming that he has never been convicted of a crime, and that Spotify “is acting based on false and unproven allegations… Spotify promotes numerous other artists who are convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature.”

Music Ally certainly isn’t going in to battle on behalf of R.Kelly here, by any means. However, the argument above shows how carefully (and, hopefully, transparently) Spotify will approach this element of its hate policies.

If R.Kelly is banned, why is Chris Brown still on Today’s Top Hits, to name just the most obvious example? Should Guns’n’Roses (currently in the news for removing racist and homophobic track ‘One In A Million’ from the latest remastering of their back catalogue) be on Spotify’s Rock Anthems, All Out 80s and ‘80s Hard Rock playlists?

Spotify’s stand against hateful conduct feels like an encouraging thing, and the platform’s clout means that it could have a significant impact. Will popular artists be keen to let R.Kelly guest on their new track if that means it’ll be invisible to Discover Weekly, Release Radar and the curated playlists, for example? We wouldn’t surprised to see a lawsuit come out of this aspect.

But the point is less that Spotify shouldn’t be taking this kind of stance, and more that it should work hard to establish a clear and transparent policy for how it decides an artist shouldn’t be promoted, and to make these decisions as public as possible.

Closing its announcement blog-post with “We’ll make some mistakes, we’ll learn from them, and we’ll always listen to you as we work to keep building the Spotify platform” at least suggests the company is well aware of the issues.

Stuart Dredge

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