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Spotify to stop playlisting R Kelly as new policy on hate content is published

By | Published on Friday 11 May 2018

R Kelly

Spotify will no longer playlist or actively push R Kelly’s music on its platform as part of a new policy relating to what it calls ‘hate content’ and ‘hateful conduct’. The decision comes amid the increasingly proactive #MuteRKelly campaign, which is urging various music industry entities to cut their ties with the musician in response to the plethora of allegations of sexual abuse that have been made against him over the years.

Spotify unveiled its new policy on hate content and hateful conduct yesterday. At its most basic, the new policy will seek to target music 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”.

Where tracks are deemed to breach that policy Spotify will decline to playlist or actively promote the music. In more serious circumstances it might remove the tracks from its platform entirely, albeit – Spotify says – “in consultation with rightsholders”.

Of course, policing music in this way can be a tricky business. While some will welcome Spotify making a stand against music that seems to communicate a hateful message, others will express free speech concerns, and may ultimately accuse the streaming platform of censorship. Especially if tracks are removed entirely, rather than just being banned from the service’s own playlists.

One challenge is where you draw the line between lyrics that are offensive (to some) and lyrics that are actually hateful. Spotify acknowledged this challenge when launching its new policy yesterday, stating: “It’s important to remember that cultural standards and sensitivities vary widely. 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”.

Spotify plans to outsource some of this tricky line drawing and decision making by partnering with various rights advocacy groups to identify hateful content, including The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up For Racial Justice, GLAAD, Muslim Advocates and the International Network Against Cyber Hate. Though free speech activists may still be critical.

Of course, radio stations have had to deal with what to do about hateful and offensive records for decades. Although as most radio stations only tend to play a relatively small selection of music, the problem has only really come up when a controversial track becomes a hit. Spotify is dealing with a much bigger pool of music.

Indeed, with so much music on its platform, and a flood of new tracks being uploaded all the time, one challenge for Spotify is spotting the controversial tracks in the first place. To that end, the company added yesterday: “[We have] also built an internal content monitoring tool, Spotify AudioWatch, which identifies content on our platform that has been flagged as hate content on specific international registers. And we listen to our users – if you think something is hate content, please let us know”.

R Kelly falls foul not of the new policy on hate content but of the new policy on hateful conduct. Spotify goes on: “We’ve also thought long and hard about how to handle content that is not hate content itself, but is principally made by artists or other creators who have demonstrated hateful conduct personally”.

It then says: “While we don’t believe in censoring content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to programme – to reflect our values. So, in some circumstances, 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”.

Spotify subsequently confirmed to BBC Newsbeat that as a result of that new policy “we are removing R Kelly’s music from all Spotify-owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations, such as Discover Weekly”.

Numerous sexual abuse allegations have been made against Kelly over the years, including accusations involving underage girls. He has always denied any wrongdoing though, and – when specifically charged over claims he had filmed the sexual abuse of an underage girl – he was acquitted in 2008.

However, the musician has nevertheless been on the receiving end of many civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, most of which have been settled out of court. American journalist Jim DeRogatis has been prolific in documenting the various accusations and litigation, most recently in a piece for Buzzfeed last year, while a recent Rolling Stone article and BBC Three documentary also put the spotlight on claims made against the star.

The resulting #MuteRKelly campaign has gained quite a bit of momentum in recent weeks, and was recently backed by the Women Of Color group within Time’s Up, the entertainment industry-led initiative that is demanding proactive measures to stop sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace.

When that happened Kelly again denied all the allegations made against him and hit out at his critics. A statement from the musician’s camp said: “We fully support the rights of women to be empowered to make their own choices”.

It went on: “Time’s Up has neglected to speak with any of the women who welcome R Kelly’s support, and it has rushed to judgement without the facts. Soon it will become clear Mr Kelly is the target of a greedy, conscious and malicious conspiracy to demean him, his family and the women with whom he spends his time”.



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