Thought for the day: “Women want real men, men they can count on and yes, look up to. No amount of feminist theory will change that.”
Or here’s another one: “Intersectionality is a form of identity politics, in which the value of your opinion depends on how many victim groups you belong to.” And just for good measure: “The answer to toxic masculinity isn’t less masculinity. It’s better masculinity.”
These aren’t the views you’d expect to read on Music Ally. And as of Friday, they’re also not being heard by any of Spotify’s free listeners in the US.
These are examples of advertisements that were booked on Spotify by right-wing US organisation PragerU, in an effort to drive traffic to the videos on its website (examples: ‘What Does Diversity Have to Do with Science?’, ‘Where Are the Moderate Muslims?’, ‘Gender Identity: Why All the Confusion?’ and ‘Why You Should Be a Nationalist’ – you get the picture).
Spotify said it will “stop all existing ads and not approve any new ads.”
— PragerU (@prageru) January 25, 2019
On Friday, according to PragerU, Spotify removed its ads and barred it from booking more. “Our policy team has re-reviewed the ads that you have submitted through Ad Studio and determined that the content of the ads do not comply with our editorial policies,” explained an email from Spotify released by PragerU.
“Our policy team has made the decision to stop all existing ads and not approve new ads coming through in the future. Please let us know if you have any questions or require further clarification.” Spotify has declined to comment. PragerU claims that its ads had reached more than 1m people on Spotify until they were pulled on 24 January.
The streaming service does publish its Advertising Editorial Policies: among those that PragerU may have been deemed to fail are “content that infringes upon or violates, or encourages the infringement or violation of, the rights of any third party” and “content that promotes stereotypes or inaccurately portrays or attacks an individual or group on the basis of age, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or handicap”. There are also restrictions on ads for “religion or religious causes”.
Spotify isn’t the first online platform to tangle with PragerU: the organisation sued YouTube in 2017 claiming that its videos were being illegally censored by Google’s video service, as it marked them as ‘restricted’.
That lawsuit was dismissed in March 2018, when a judge ruled that “defendants are private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website”.
There are important lines to be drawn between hate speech (including content designed to encourage hate more subtly) on one side and disagreeable-but-legal views on the other.
Spotify has long identified itself with progressive causes in the US, from supporting undocumented immigrants who came to America as children (‘DREAMers) to launching its ‘I’m With The Banned’ campaign in response to President Trump’s travel ban covering predominantly-Muslim countries.
It was also caught up in last year’s controversy around far-right celebrity Alex Jones’ InfoWars podcast – Spotify, like other tech platforms, eventually removed it – while on the advertising front, last November it pulled ads running in Massachusetts that supported a campaign to remove the right for trans people to use public toilets and changing rooms aligned with their gender identity.
Spotify is setting out its red lines for ads and content, and while the inevitable controversies will blow up and be capitalised on by organisations affected (“This bias against conservatives can’t continue. RT to stand up to Big Tech!” tweeted PragerU this weekend) it’s important that Spotify makes these decisions as part of a clear policy – particularly as it grows in prominence as an advertising platform.