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Opinion June 4, 2018

Op Ed: Is dumping “confusing” ‘hateful content’ policy normalising violence against women?

Senior Journalist, B2B
Op Ed: Is dumping “confusing” ‘hateful content’ policy normalising violence against women?

Spotify has officially pulled its controversial ‘hateful conduct’ policy.

Last week CEO Daniel Ek had already started distancing himself from the policy, telling the Recode’s tech conference in California that they “rolled it out wrong”.

Spotify’s U-turn will be held up as a textbook example of what a brand should do when it enters stormy waters – admit your mistake, cop the blame, apologise publicly, and quickly make amendments.

But it is a bitter blow to #MeToo-inspired movements who are campaigning for the music industry – the media, concerts, streaming, record labels and publishers – to stop providing support to musicians until they take responsibility for their actions.

Spotify’s playlist bans meant that millions of users would not be able to discover these collared acts although their music was still on the service.

US group UltraViolet pointed out at the time: “This isn’t about banning artists – it’s about removing abusers from official Spotify playlists.

“Playlist promotion = increased popularity AND income.

“Abusers don’t deserve promotion and celebration, period.”

UltraViolet, who campaign to fight sexism and nurture social and political inclusivity, angrily slammed Spotify’s reversal over the weekend, saying it “normalises violence against women” and puts “profits over people.”

The organisation’s co-founder Shaunna Thomas responded: “Two weeks ago, Spotify declared that: ‘We want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values.’

“Now, we know exactly what those values are: profits over people, and music industry bigwigs over survivors of abuse.

“When music platforms promote abusers, they allow those abusers to reap in profits, lining their pockets in royalties and expanding their fan bases. This normalises violence against women.

“Spotify’s values are now clear for all to see: Abusers take priority over survivors of their crimes. We will not forget their decision.”

Spotify’s bans on R. Kelly, Florida rapper XXXTentacion and teenage rapper Tay-K 47 were a catalyst to greater action – not only to expand bans to the likes of Eminem, Chris Brown, Nelly and Red Hot Chili Peppers but for more streaming (and media) services to join in.

However, even then, music industry and legal executives expressed concern that the bans were vague and too subjective.

“This [policy statement] feels much too undefined, it raises more questions than it answers,” Charis Kubrin, a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California told Variety.

“It was obviously led by R. Kelly, but it seems as if they started with him rather than putting the policy in place first and then deciding who would [be penalised].

“He’s the poster child for this, and he hasn’t been convicted of anything.”

Lecia Brooks, outreach director of the Southern Poverty Law, one of the groups with which Spotify is working to define hateful content, was just as concerned.

“I thought it was very vague — how do you define that as a policy?” Brooks said to Variety.

“It is unfortunate that the announcement speaks to [just] hate, when there are many other concerns to be raised.

“They’re trying to hold artists accountable, but who would ascertain what constitutes a credible accusation [of hateful behaviour]?

“It’s dangerous and it has real implications.”

Acts getting negative attention as PWR Bttm, Ducktails, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. were also thought to have been pulled.

But in the case of XXXTentacion, he and the pregnant woman whose belly he’s supposed to have hit, have dropped charges against each other. 

Tay-K 47 is awaiting trial on the charge of two murders and an aggravated robbery that left a man seriously injured.

After Spotify’s move, he complained, “I’m being accused of something that I haven’t been convicted for.

“I don’t make hate music, I rap about what goes on in every hood in America.

“I will never let a situation hold me back from what I believe in.”

The streaming service’s June 1 post went: “Spotify recently shared a new policy around hate content and conduct.

“And while we believe our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern, and didn’t spend enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing new guidelines.

“Across all genres, our role is not to regulate artists. Therefore, we are moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct.”

The statement emphasised it will continue to remove hate speech, defined as anything “whose principal purpose is to incite hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

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