As the United States faces an emboldened white supremacist movement, many businesses have taken stronger stances to limit the spread of racist and fascist messages. After a direct call-out, streaming services have been spurred to take action and remove hate bands. Here’s a timeline of what transpired this week, and how similar situations could be prevented.
An article in Digital Music News catalyzed the recent wave of removing hate speech. The publication highlighted 2014 research by the Southern Poverty Law Center that identified white supremacist hate bands. That earlier effort by the SPLC aimed to remove those bands from iTunes, but DMN found that many of those same bands with racist, white power messages were streaming on Spotify.
Less than 24 hours after the DMN article went live, Spotify began removing those artists from its service. “Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention,” the company told DMN. “We are glad to have been alerted to this content — and have already removed many of the bands identified today, whilst urgently reviewing the remainder.”
Spotify’s action to remove hate speech from its platform dominated music headlines yesterday. Other companies have since followed suit, with Deezer, Google, and CD Baby all making statements about their policies for hate speech and affirming a commitment to removing music or artists that infringe those policies.
This move to limit the availability of white supremacist music has highlighted the difficulty of monitoring each of the millions of tracks hosted by a streaming platform. The current status quo places the burden of reporting on the users, but the systems for flagging offensive material can be complex. And who’s to say anyone other than white nationalists would have stumbled upon these bands without the original sleuthing of the SPLC? An efficient way to identify hate speech prior to distribution, rather than counting on users to police and report what they hear, would be a valuable resource for the streaming industry.
Some critics have also argued that the week’s activity could be construed as violating the first amendment. However, the right to free speech is not a right to have any message heard or to receive a platform to speak on.