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Spotify’s hateful content policy was ‘rolled out wrong,’ says CEO

‘It was never about punishing one individual artist, or even naming one individual artist as well’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Spotify’s recent controversial decision to apply a conduct code to artists’ personal conduct was handled poorly, according to CEO Daniel Ek. Speaking to Recode’s Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher at Code Conference, Ek says that the goal was never to act as “moral police” toward artists. “I think we rolled this out wrong, and we could have done a much better job,” he said.

Earlier this month, Spotify announced a new policy on “hate content and hateful conduct” that would apply to artists’ personal lives. The policy was immediately controversial. Online, people questioned its interpretation and how to enforce it; it also reportedly caused dissent within the company. Two weeks later, the company had decided to “walk back” that decision. Ek says that Spotify was attempting to be transparent in its decision, but that the conduct rules were too vague. “The whole goal with this was to make sure that we didn’t have hate speech on the service,” he said. “It was never about punishing one individual artist, or even naming one individual artist as well.”

Although Spotify was mostly quiet about who exactly its policy affected, the company did specifically name R. Kelly — who’s been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct — as one artist impacted. (It turns out, removing R. Kelly from official playlists didn’t actually affect how much his music was played.) Rapper XXXTentacion, who was charged with battering a pregnant woman, was also yanked from playlists. While XXXTentacion was restored to playlists when the company backtracked the policy, Kelly remained off.

Ek says that he thinks Spotify handled communication on the issue poorly. “There’s too much ambiguity in terms of how people interpreted this,” Ek said. “People thought that they couldn’t be on the service, which was, of course, never the intent.”

He added that the policy was hotly debated internally, but that its goal was always to focus on hate speech. “It wasn’t to go after being moral police about who did right, who did wrong,” he said. “You get into really tricky things such as have [sic] this person actually been charged with something, have they actually been convicted with something, etc. etc.” Conversation around the policy is ongoing, as the company continues to take feedback.