Spotify pulls R Kelly from its playlists under new hate content policy

11 May 2018

Spotify logo on a mobile device. Image: slyellow/Shutterstock

Spotify’s new policy comes down hard on certain content from musical artists.

Spotify is the largest music streaming service in the world, with 70m paying users as of January 2018, according to Statista figures.

It has been a major force of change for the music industry and its latest policy decision is likely to have quite an effect on some artists.

Future Human

The company yesterday (10 May) introduced a policy on how it will deal with hate content and hateful conduct from artists on its platform.

What is hate content?

Spotify defines hate content as “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 cases of hateful conduct, the result is that users will no longer be able to find music from certain artists on Spotify’s editorial and algorithmic playlists.

Included among these artists is R Kelly, who has been subject to a plethora of sexual abuse allegations from many women for a number of years. Kelly himself has strenuously denied the numerous allegations.

Spotify distances itself from R Kelly

Spotify explained its decision to Billboard: “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 behaviour, 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.”

Rapper XXXTentacion’s song Sad! has also been removed from the influential RapCaviar playlist curated by the Swedish streaming service. The artist has been embroiled in a series of legal issues, and allegations of battery, false imprisonment and witness tampering have been made against him.

Spotify has its work cut out

The Swedish firm acknowledged that the task ahead of it is a difficult one and it added that the policy would need to be malleable in order to function well. “At the same time, however, it’s important to remember that cultural standards and sensitivities vary widely. That means 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.” Some content may be removed completely, while other music may no longer be promoted by the company.

Spotify is monitoring content and implementing new technology to help identify content that has been flagged on international registers for such material. Rights advocacy groups are also being consulted and users are also permitted to submit reports to the company.

Spotify logo on a mobile device. Image: slyellow/Shutterstock

Updated, 1.15pm, 11 May 2018: This article was updated to correct a mistaken figure and clarify that Spotify had 70m paying subscribers in January 2018.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects