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Spotify Deletes Hate Bands in Charlottesville Aftermath

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Spotify has deleted a number of white supremacist tracks after 37 “hate bands” were flagged online. The streaming service has said that such music “is not tolerated by us.”

The move came after Digital Music News published a story entitled “I just found 37 White Supremacist Hate Bands on Spotify.”

The acts involved had been listed as “hate bands” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014, who, at the time, ran a campaign aimed at having them removed from iTunes, which resulted in tracks being deleted. Proliferation of extreme-right propaganda has been under the spotlight in the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, Va., over the past weekend. But Spotify, like other streaming services, may struggle to define the line between free speech and hate speech as they trawl a catalog of millions of songs to enforce their rules.

Digital Music News said, “A few years ago the Southern Poverty Law Center discovered that white power music was finding a brand-new outlet online. Since that point, streaming has rapidly replaced downloading. And it looks like most of these bands were not removed by Spotify, and still exist on the platform today.

“In fact, it was pretty easy to find hate-oriented groups simply by referencing similar artists on Spotify itself. Recommendation engines on larger platforms like YouTube have been blamed for fanning the flames on extremist ideologies and conspiracy theories. In the wake of violent clashes in Charlottesville and an increasingly vocal post-[Donald] Trump white supremacy voice, the presence of white supremacy music on Spotify take on a different light.”

A Spotify spokesman said, “Illegal content or material that favors hatred, or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention. We are glad to have been alerted to this content and have already removed many of the bands identified, whilst urgently reviewing the remainder.”

The company is examining the possibility of preventing hate music from appearing via its automated recommendation system, and a playlist entitled “Patriotic Passion” is being promoted, featuring Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” among other tracks. Deezer reported that it was “in the process of swiftly and actively reviewing the content on our platform and will remove any material connected to any white supremacist movement or belief system.”

Reporting the removals, Billboard said, “In trying to keep hate music off their services, streaming companies face a tricky task in determining what to remove and what to protect in the interest of free speech. Deciding whether content is legal is difficult given the range of laws in different markets, and the task requires careful listening, given the often coded racist slang used in such tunes. There’s also a fear of bringing more attention to hate bands by making them into a legal issue.”

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