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Spotify Reneges on Anti–“Hateful Conduct” Policy Following Backlash

This illustration picture taken on April 19, 2018 shows the logo of online streaming music service Spotify displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.
The Spotify logo, displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.
Lionel Bonaventure / Getty Images

It just got a little more likely to hear R. Kelly on Spotify. The music streaming giant has decided to move away from its recent policy changes regarding hateful content and conduct* after facing backlash from artists and fans. The policy, which was announced May 10, proposed that abusive artists be removed from the site’s editorially curated and algorithmic playlists (think Today’s Top Hits and Your Daily Mix). The policy stated, “When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.” This policy change led Spotify to remove R. Kelly, XXXTentacion, and Tay-K from its playlists.

But the company has revoked this policy, according to a post published to its blog on Friday. It reads, in part:

Spotify recently shared a new policy around hate content and conduct … It’s important to note that our policy had two parts. The first 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. 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.

That’s not what Spotify is about. We don’t aim to play judge and jury.

This rollback comes following concerns that revoking publicity for alleged abusers creates a slippery slope. If accusations determine an artist’s status, detractors argued, this could cause a problem in the event that the accusations are not proven true. On the other side of this debate, it could be argued that the original policy was too soft, and that merely removing artists from playlists does little to decrease fan interaction.

The company adds that the second part of its policy, which “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,” is still very much in play. This is arguably the more controversial part of its policy, given the company’s slow response to white supremacist artists, and given the fact that I listened to the Manson Family band on Spotify while writing this article.

Correction, June 1, 2018: This article originally stated that Spotify had rolled back its anti–hate content policy. The company is actually moving away from its policies concerning “hateful conduct.”