As we reported yesterday, Spotify’s latest content controversy concerns the availability on its service of podcasts by far-right conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones. Having been censured by YouTube and Facebook in recent weeks, Jones had been pointing fans towards Spotify to listen to ‘The Alex Jones Show’. That sparked an online campaign asking Spotify to boot him off its platform too.
The company hasn’t done that, but it has taken action against specific episodes of the podcast. “We take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community,” a spokesperson told tech site Recode last night. “Spotify can confirm it has removed specific episodes of ‘The Alex Jones Show’ podcast for violating our hate content policy.”
As we noted yesterday, Spotify is clearly treading carefully on matters of censorship, having been bruised by the criticism of its recent ‘hateful conduct’ policy, when R Kelly and XXXTentacion were briefly de-playlisted on its service. Spotify’s action over Jones’ podcast is likely to draw more criticism from people who’d like the company to bar him completely, but by focusing on specific examples of hate content in the podcasts, Spotify is playing it by the book.
It’s awkward. If you have any kind of liberal sensibilities, the fact that Spotify is still hosting podcast episodes with topics including ‘WATCH: Islamic Invasion Ships Slam Into Spain’, ‘far-left agitators are just as bad as neo-Nazis’ and ‘Italian bishop: ‘Turn all churches into mosques’ feels jarring. Yet discerning the lines between hate content; dog-whistle racism that may incite hate; and bizarre (but legal) conspiracy theories is a sensitive task for anyone to balance with principles of free speech.
For Spotify, this is all part of the necessary growing-up process of being an online platform with significant prominence, and thus facing the kind of scrutiny that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others are used to (but, crucially, still regularly make mis-steps when figuring out how to deal with controversial content). A slower, more careful approach based on legal solidity AND on learning from the experiences of those other platforms seems like a sensible path forward for Spotify.
Update: Spotify has now removed the entire InfoWars podcast archives. “I can confirm that Spotify has removed the Alex Jones Show – Infowars,” a spokesperson told Music Ally. The company’s policy on hate content includes a clause noting that “Repeated violations of our prohibited content policies can result in losing access to the Spotify platform”.