Spotify Reverses 'Hateful Conduct' Policy, Admitting It Was Too Vague

Under the initial policy, it dropped alleged sexual harasser R. Kelly's music from its promotional playlists.

Spotify is backtracking on its new policy of not promoting artists with histories of “hateful conduct,” after criticism and confusion over how the guidelines would be implemented.

“Across all genres, our role is not to regulate artists. Therefore, we are moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct,” the music streaming service said in a statement Friday, adding that “we don’t aim to play judge and jury.” 

With the announcement of the policy last month, Spotify had immediately stopped promoting singer R. Kelly, who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by scores of women. It removed his music from its own playlists and from the algorithm that makes personalized recommendations to users, although people could still access his music directly on the site.

Later the same day, Spotify also stopped promoting music from rapper XXXTentacion, who has been accused of domestic abuse, including allegedly beating his former girlfriend when she was pregnant with their child. 

Representatives for both artists decried the policy. It was also unclear how Spotify might apply the rules to other musicians with histories of behavior that might fall under the rubric of “hateful conduct.”

At the time, the company did not return several requests for comment on how the policy would affect other artists. When announcing the policy, it suggested that it would evaluate artists on a case-by-case basis and would consider user recommendations.

In the statement Friday, Spotify acknowledged that the policy’s “language was vague and left too many elements open to interpretation,” but said that “our intentions were good.”

Bloomberg reported last week that there was internal tension at the company over the new guidelines. Earlier this week, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek expressed regret that “we rolled this out wrong and we could have done a much better job.”

In addition to restricting artists involved in hateful conduct, Spotify’s initial policy had also taken aim at music that promotes “hate speech.” The company said Friday that the latter element would remain in place. It defined “hate speech” as “content whose principal purpose is to incite hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”