Earlier this month, Swedish streaming giant Spotify announced, to much applause, that it would be introducing a policy on “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct.” The company left the policy intentionally vague, which allowed Spotify to remove artists from its playlists at will. “When we are alerted to content that violates our policy, we may remove it (in consultation with rights holders) or refrain from promoting or playlisting it on our service,” the company’s PR team wrote in a statement at the time. They added that R. Kelly — who, over the course of his career, has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct — would be among those affected. Today, following a backlash from artists and label executives, Bloomberg reports that Spotify has decided to “walk back” the policy. That means restoring the rapper XXXTentacion’s music to its playlists, despite that he was charged with battering a pregnant woman.
Part of the blowback has to do with the broad scope of the company’s content policy, which seemed to leave the door open to policing artists’ personal lives and conduct. “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,” the May 10th statement said. “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.” Privately, as Bloomberg reported, this led some label executives to wonder “why the two acts singled out are black, while plenty of white men with histories of violence were unscathed.” R. Kelly, Spotify says, will remain banned from its playlists, though his removal may have actually increased his streaming numbers.
Whatever happens next, it’s clear that Spotify — which just went public — didn’t think through the implications of its actions. Its motives were pure, but working with any high-profile industry that has a financial incentive to protect its investments — and its abusers — means that having good intentions is almost never good enough.
The Verge has reached out to Spotify for comment.