Posted: June 01, 2018
By Kelcie Willis, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
After a mix of praise, criticism and backlash from advocates and musicians, Spotify is pulling back on its public hate content and hateful conduct policy that was issued in May.
The policy, which considered hate content to be “content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability,” removed music by R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from Spotify playlists.
Rolling Stone reported that the streaming service announced Friday that the policy would still be in place, but the service won’t be “judge and jury.”
“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,” the company said in an update Friday.
“It’s important to note that our policy had two parts,” the update said. “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.”
Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, was among those in the music business who were not fans of the policy. Tiffith’s label is home to Kendrick Lamar, SZA and ScHoolboy Q among others. In an interview with Billboard, Tiffith said that he set up a phone call with Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek, Diddy and former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola. It was that call that ultimately led to the change in policy, according to Tiffith.
“His intentions were good in terms of what they were trying to do, but it just came across wrong,” Tiffith said of Ek’s policy.
At the Code Conference Wednesday, Ek himself admitted that the company rolled out the policy incorrectly, saying, “The whole goal with this was to make sure that we didn’t have hate speech on the service. It was never about punishing one individual.”
To clear up confusion, Spotify reiterated the second part of the policy, which will remain in place.
“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.”
On the heels of #MuteRKelly, Spotify will no longer have the R&B singer’s music available in playlists.
Billboard reported Thursday that Kelly’s music has been removed from the streaming service’s editorial and algorithmic playlists under the terms of a new public hate content and hateful conduct policy put in place. Under the policy, hate content is “content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability.”
In a statement to Billboard, Spotify said, “We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly. His music will still be available on the service, but Spotify will not actively promote it. We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions -- what we choose to program -- to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.”
Kelly has been accused of sexual violence against underage black women for decades. A Dec. 1994 - Jan. 1995 issue of Vibe Magazine exposed Kelly’s secret marriage of Kelly to the late singer Aaliyah, who was allegedly 15 at the time, when he was 27. The marriage was soon annulled. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges after a six-year ordeal stemming from a videotape that showed a man who looked like Kelly having sex with an underage girl.
In July 2017, BuzzFeed News published a story that claimed the now 51-year-old was running a sex cult out of his Chicago mansion. Since then, more women have come forward to say they were abused by Kelly. Kelly has routinely denied any allegations of sexual misconduct and violence.
On April 30, Women of Color of Time’s Up, a sub group within the Time’s Up organization that works on issues specifically impacting women and girls of color, posted an open letter calling for investigations into allegations made against Kelly. The letter called on RCA Records, Kelly’s label; Ticketmaster; Spotify; Apple Music and Greensboro Coliseum Complex, where Kelly had a May 11 concert scheduled, to cut ties with the singer.
The Chicago Tribune reported on Thursday that, according to a representative for the Coliseum, the Friday concert is still happening. Ticketmaster still has the event listed on its website. Billboard reported that RCA Records has not dropped Kelly from its label. An Apple Music representative did not immediately respond when reached by Rolling Stone for comment on the open letter.
In response to the letter, Kelly’s manager issued a statement, saying in part, “R. Kelly supports the pro-women goals of the Time’s Up movement. We understand criticizing a famous artist is a good way to draw attention to those goals -- and in this case, it is unjust and off-target.”
Women’s advocacy group Ultraviolet wants Spotify to extend its artist ban beyond R. Kelly and XXXTentacion to other musicians who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including Chris Brown, Nelly, Eminem, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Don Henley, Steven Tyler and 6ix9ine.
“[These] two men are not the only abusers on your platform. We implore you to take a deeper look at the artists you promote,” the organization’s executive director Shaunna Thomas wrote in an open letter Monday to Spotify head Daniel Ek. “Every time a famous individual continues to be glorified despite allegations of abuse, we wrongly perpetuate silence by showing survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence that there will be no consequences for abuse,” the group wrote. “That has a cultural effect far beyond one individual artist.”
Last week, Spotify announced a new policy to curb content that “expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability.”
The policy change went into effect following a #MuteRKelly social media movement sparked by the multiple allegations of sex abuse against the artist. Spotify no longer actively promotes the artist’s music, though the songs are still available on the service.
As of May 10, Kelly’s music was no longer be available on the site’s editorial or algorithmic playlists, including Discover Weekly, New Music Friday, RapCaviar and any of the platform’s popular genre- or mood-based playlists.
Apple Music and Pandora followed suit.
The Grammy-winning artist has been accused of many crimes over the years and allegedly “held women against their will in a cult” at his homes in two cities, including one in metro Atlanta. He has denied the accusations and is currently not facing any charges. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted on 14 charges of making child pornography.
In a statement to Billboard, Spotify said, "We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions—what we choose to program—to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator."
In response to the platform changes, Kelly’s team told BuzzFeed News that Spotify’s “actions are without merit” and are “based on false and unproven allegations.”
Some of the musicians listed by Ultraviolet have been accused of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or domestic violence, but not all of them have been charged with a crime.
The group, which was founded in 2012, applauded Spotify’s hate content and hateful conduct policy and hopes the open letter will urge other streaming platforms to follow Spotify’s lead.
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