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Spotify’s Mixed Bag of Censorship

Last year the #metoo campaign swept the film industry. Finally, after decades of terror, predator after predator was held accountable. Last week Spotify brought the fight to the music industry with its new “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy.” Banning hateful content is nothing new, but what’s new is punishing creators for ‘Hateful Conduct.’ To christen this precarious decision, Spotify removed R Kelly and XXXTentacion from it’s playlists with a few strokes of their corporate keys.  

So, what exactly does that mean for both Spotify and the artists? On Spotify’s end it means they’ve entered into risky territory. They’ve thrown their two cents into the age old debate about separating the art from the artist, and have done so in a particularly subjective manner. They’re teetering on the brink of censorship. R Kelly has never been convicted of a crime. While he has been party to a growing number of scandals, no court of law has found him guilty. This is a position shared by many musicians in both the urban and the pop space.  

It’s going to be interesting to see where Spotify draws the line.  XXXTentacion’s manager fired back with a high profile list of other musicians and their alleged crimes and asked for comment on how their cases would be addressed in the court of Spotify. Do XXXTentacion’s face tattoos make him more of a threat than fellow alleged abuser and former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter? Is R Kelly more of a danger to us than Tekashi69 who has been convicted of having sex with a minor?

Regardless, reality is that eventually someone has to address the widespread gross misuse of power and Spotify is up for the task. What they’re doing is certainly uncharted territory but it’s no different than the film industry pushing out Harvey Weinstein without a legal judgement. Our legal system has often failed us and the fact that R Kelly and many others remain legally innocent does not mean that they are truly innocent of their alleged crimes.

Spotify is operational because of its subscribers and in this day and age people have more of a voice than ever before because of social media. When Laura Ingraham from Fox made bullying comments toward one of the Parkland survivors, many corporations pulled their ads from Fox because people with buying power called them out on social media. Spotify is basically saying, our subscribers own us and we have to respect them.

While the first amendment is something we all hold dear, Spotify isn’t wholly censoring anyone. They’re removing the songs from their editorial playlists, not their platform. Spotify is simply choosing not to support these artists with their resources, not telling them what they can and can’t say or do. Censorship is scary, but so are men in power who wield it to abuse women and escape the law. Our actions have consequences, even if they aren’t always legal. In this situation Spotify is taking the role of the parent telling the children “you have free will, but if you choose to do A then we’re going to do B.”

While the move can be seen as commendable, is this how mass censorship starts? Maybe, but if this type of censorship bleeds into politics, that’s a different story, but right now, it seems like Spotify, among other corporations, is doing what they can do spread goodness through their platform.

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