Spotify introduces hate content policy following R. Kelly controversy

R. Kelly Performs onstage at the FOX Theater on December 27, 2016 in Atlanta Georgia - USA

Spotify has announced a new hate content and hateful conduct policy as it looks to distance itself from controversial music artists that are available on its streaming platform.

Additionally, the company said it has built an automated monitoring tool it calls Spotify AudioWatch to find content already on its platform that has  been flagged as hate content elsewhere around the world.

The move comes just weeks after a Time’s Up initiative kicked off a public pressure campaign to boycott R Kelly’s music and live shows following numerous allegations of the artist’s recent and historical abuses against women. The campaign specifically targeted R Kelly’s label, RCA, in addition to Spotify, Apple Music, and Ticketmaster.

Spotify is the first of the quartet of targeted companies to officially respond to the campaign, though Ticketmaster did remove R Kelly from a planned Chicago concert without any direct explanation.

The music-streaming giant likely won’t be removing any music from its platform as a result of its new policy — after all, popular music contains incalculable quantities of lyrics that fit the definition of hateful content dating back a century. However, Spotify did suggest that removing music could be an option in some instances. In the case of R Kelly, it said that it will simply stop promoting the artist as a part of its editorial and algorithmic programs, such as its Discover Weekly playlist, as reported by Billboard.

“When we are alerted to content that violates our policy, we may remove it (in consultation with rights holders) or refrain from promoting or playlisting it on our service,” the company said in a statement. “It’s important to us that our values are reflected in all the work that we do, whether it’s distribution, promotion, or content creation.”

And in the case of R Kelly, it’s now clear that Spotify isn’t actually basing its decisions purely on the content of the music itself, but on the broader conduct of the artist behind it.

The statement continues:

We’ve also thought long and hard about how to handle content that is not hate content itself, but is principally made by artists or other creators who have demonstrated hateful conduct personally. We work with and support artists in different ways – we make their music available on Spotify and help connect them to new and existing fans, we program and promote their music, and we collaborate with them to create content. While we don’t believe in censoring content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values.

Spotify now finds itself in the unenviable position of the likes of Facebook and Google — having to make decisions relating to what is and isn’t acceptable content on its platform. And Apple will also likely have to take a position on this matter, given the widespread publicity the R Kelly campaign has attained.

Spotify is adamant that this new policy won’t serve as a free-for-all when it comes to taking down offensive music, however. “It’s important to remember that cultural standards and sensitivities vary widely,” it said. “There will always be content that is acceptable in some circumstances, but is offensive in others, and we will always look at the entire context.”

To identify hate content, Spotify said that it has partnered with a range of rights advocacy groups, such as 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.

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