Business News Digital

Spotify criticised for carrying music by white supremacist artists

By | Published on Monday 26 September 2022


The US-based Anti-Defamation League has criticised Spotify for carrying music by white supremacist artists, arguing that the streaming firm is not effectively enforcing its own anti-extremism policies.

How Spotify deals with harmful content uploaded to its platform – whether that content is offensive, unlawful, abusive or misleading – was very much in the spotlight earlier this year, of course, following the controversy around the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

Claims that that Spotify exclusive podcast had allowed controversial guests to make statements about the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting vaccines that went against the scientific consensus – and which were not challenged by Rogan – became headline news after Neil Young announced he was boycotting the streaming firm in protest.

Other artists and creators then joined that boycott, with criticism also being made about Rogan’s use of racist language.

In response, Spotify said that it would review and better promote its policies for dealing with harmful content. And then in June it launched a Safety Advisory Council, a panel of third party experts which, it said, would “help Spotify evolve its policies and products in a safe way while making sure we respect creator expression”.

Much of the attention put on Spotify’s harmful content policies earlier this year related to podcasts. But the ADL’s new criticism focuses on music that is available via the Spotify service.

In a blog post it published last week, the ADL – which describes itself as a “global leader in combating antisemitism, countering extremism and battling bigotry” – says that it has “identified 40 white supremacist artists with a presence on Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming platform”.

“Music has long been an effective way to radicalise extremists, allowing artists to both entertain and indoctrinate vulnerable listeners”, it goes on. “At a time of increasing hate-motivated extremist violence, Spotify is not only allowing the racism and incitement of white supremacist music, it is actively promoting that content on its own playlists”.

According to the ADL, among the reforms Spotify made earlier this year to its systems for dealing with harmful content was the introduction of “a much more explicit anti-extremism policy”, in part informed by a previous report the campaign group published.

However, that new policy does “not appear to be strictly enforced [and] users who want to proactively report problematic content are only able to do so on the Spotify desktop app and not on the mobile app, which constitutes a roadblock to flagging problematic content”.

The ADL then identifies the 40 artists which, it reckons, promote a white supremacist agenda, adding: “Despite adding explicit anti-extremist guidelines to their content policy, Spotify allows extremist content to flourish”.

It then concludes: “Between the extremist content found in some artists’ bios, the white supremacist messaging in some bands’ lyrics and the white supremacist imagery found in the cover art, Spotify still has considerable work to do in implementing its new policy”.

In a statement issued to the Washington Post regarding the ADL’s report, Spotify’s Adam Grossberg says: “When we become aware of potentially violating content on our platform, our teams carefully review that content against our policies and take the appropriate action”. As a result of that activity, Grossberg adds, so far this year Spotify has “removed more than 12,000 podcast episodes, 19,000 playlists, 160 music tracks and nearly 20 albums”.

Of course all digital content platforms face the ongoing challenge of effectively dealing with harmful content while trying to respect the free speech rights of creators.

And, when contacted by the Washington Post, some of the artists whose music has been removed by Spotify accused the streaming firm of censorship, insisting that nothing about their creative output violated any laws.

But the ADL’s Calum Farley says that music like that profiled in last week’s blog post – much of which makes references to fascism, the Nazi Party and Hitler, or more current white supremacy movements, and/or includes Nazi speeches or imagery – can play an important role in promoting extremist ideologies.

People might be “attracted to the sounds or the types of songs”, he says, “and then they start reading the lyrics of the songs, and they can see the extremist narratives that are in these songs. So it’s a way of pulling people into different spaces … where they can then be further radicalised within them”.