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Spotify drops controversial ‘hateful conduct’ policy

By | Published on Monday 4 June 2018

Spotify Press Announcement

Spotify has revoked its ‘hateful conduct’ policy, after CEO Daniel Ek admitted last week that it had been badly implemented. But the company said that it would continue to remove tracks containing hate speech.

In a statement, the streaming firm said that the language of its hateful conduct policy had been “too vague”, and that it had not spent “enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing [the] new guidelines”.

“We don’t aim to play judge and jury”, it said, noting one particular criticism of the policy, and acknowledging that it had “created concern that a [mere] allegation might affect artists’ chances of landing on a Spotify playlist and negatively impact their future”.

The new policy on hate content and hateful conduct was launched last month. It formalised a policy of removing content containing hate speech and introduced new rules on the conduct of artists outside of their music. Artists whose conduct was deemed hateful would no longer be included on Spotify-owned playlists.

The first to fall foul of the hateful conduct rule were R Kelly – who faces numerous accusations of sexual abuse – and XXXTentacion – who is awaiting trial for the alleged battery of a pregnant woman. Both had their music pulled from Spotify’s in-house playlists, although tracks remained on the platform.

Response to the policy was mixed. Some praised Spotify for taking a stand, but many also asked why the service was not removing other artists from its playlist who faced accusations, or in some case had been convicted of crimes.

Others said that the policy set a dangerous precedent, with the company making judgements on artists who had no criminal convictions relating to accusations against them. It was also noted that the only artists to have their music pulled were hip hop and R&B acts.

There was internal disagreement over the policy too. Troy Carter admitted to the LA Times that he and others at Spotify had raised concerns (although denied that he had resigned over it), saying that the policy was “a work in progress”.

It was then reported that the ban on XXXTentacion’s music was being lifted, and at a Recode tech conference last week Daniel Ek admitted that there were problems with the policy.

“The whole goal with this was to make sure that we didn’t have hate speech on the service”, he said. “It was never about punishing one individual. We rolled this out wrong … we could have done a much better job”.

The hateful conduct section of the policy was removed from Spotify’s website entirely on Friday afternoon. The company said in its statement that this part of the policy “was related to promotional decisions in the rare cases of the most extreme artist controversies”.

“As some have pointed out, this language was vague and left too many elements open to interpretation”, it continued. “We created concern that an allegation might affect artists’ chances of landing on a Spotify playlist and negatively impact their future. Some artists even worried that mistakes made in their youth would be used against them”.

It went on: “That’s not what Spotify is about. We don’t aim to play judge and jury. We aim to connect artists and fans – and Spotify playlists are a big part of how we do that. Our playlist editors are deeply rooted in their respective cultures, and their decisions focus on what music will positively resonate with their listeners. That can vary greatly from culture to culture, and playlist to playlist. Across all genres, our role is not to regulate artists. Therefore, we are moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct”.

Confirming the policy on hate content remained in force, the statement went on: “Spotify does not permit content whose principal purpose is to incite hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. As we’ve done before, we will remove content that violates that standard. We’re not talking about offensive, explicit, or vulgar content – we’re talking about hate speech”.

“We will continue to seek ways to impact the greater good and further the industry we all care so much about”, the statement concluded. “We believe Spotify has an opportunity to help push the broader music community forward through conversation, collaboration and action. We’re committed to working across the artist and advocacy communities to help achieve that”.

Head of Top Dawg Entertainment, Anthony Tiggith, whose label represents Kendrick Lamar, SZA and others, told Billboard on Friday that he had warned Spotify of an artist revolt over the policy.

“I reached out to Troy [Carter] over there”, he said. “We had a conversation and I expressed how I felt about it, about censorship, how you can’t do artists that way. I don’t think it’s right for artists to be censored, especially in our culture. How did they just pick those [artists] out? How come they didn’t pick out any others from any other genres or any other different cultures? There [are] so many other artists that have different things going on, and they could’ve picked anybody. But it seems to me that they’re constantly picking on hip hop culture”.

He said that he, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Sony Music’s Tommy Mottola then spoke to Daniel Ek directly to raise their concerns.

“My whole thing with them was, we gotta fix this situation, and if it can’t be fixed, then there’s gonna be a real problem, we’re gonna have to start pulling our music from the site”, he explained. “I was willing to get the whole culture to back out. There were other people in the business, other powerful artists that were willing to back what I was saying, because nobody agrees with censorship like that”.

“[Ek] understood where I was coming from and he wanted to help change or reverse that decision”, he said. “They understood where I was coming from, I understood what their intentions were and we cleared it up. So it’s not no bad blood, it shouldn’t affect anything going forward”.