Last week, the massive music streaming company Spotify announced that it would clamp down on “hate content,” and that it would partner with far-left organizations to do so. The company gave no pretense of objectivity, listing six leftist groups and only one moderate group among its partners for identifying such content.
“We do not tolerate hate content on Spotify,” the company announced on Thursday. Spotify defined “hate content” as “content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability.”
This sounds innocent enough, and it stands to reason companies would want to avoid such content. Nevertheless, many have redefined “hate speech” to mean “speech I happen to disagree with,” and Spotify has decided to team up with one of the groups most notorious for redefining “hate.”
“To help us identify hate content, we have partnered with rights advocacy groups, including The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), GLAAD, Muslim Advocates, and the International Network Against Cyber Hate,” Spotify announced.
Only one of these groups, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), is not primarily a far-left activist group. Even the ADL has reportedly launched an attack against a Jewish journalist for criticizing a perceived liberal bias. (ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt is a former Obama staffer.)
As for the other groups, they read like a progressive ideologue’s wish list: Color Of Change partners with Black Lives Matter to press for “racial justice” and has spearheaded boycotts against Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Trump’s inauguration; SURJ is dedicated to fighting “white supremacy,” removing Confederate statues, and supporting the anti-Trump resistance; GLAAD is an LGBT activist group that attacks the Trump administration on a daily basis (even on such unrelated issues as gun control); Muslim Advocates has joined with groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to attack anti-Jihadist Muslims like M. Zuhdi Jasser; and the International Network Against Cyber Hate has a broad mission but it has partnered with leftist groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The SPLC is arguably the worst group on the list, and Spotify should distance itself from the organization. While the Southern Poverty Law Center started as a group aimed at taking the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to court, the organization has grossly overstepped its mission in recent decades, smearing mainstream conservative groups as “hate groups” on par with the KKK.
Last September, the leaders of 47 nonprofit organizations wrote an open letter to the media warning against this “discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”
Five years before the letter, Lloyd Lee Corkins II targeted the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. He shot and badly wounded the FRC building manager, who prevented Corkins from achieving his aim (later admitted in statements to the FBI) of killing everyone in the building and going on to terrorize other organizations.
Corkins used the SPLC’s “hate map,” plotting “hate groups” on a map, to target the FRC. The SPLC did not remove FRC from its “hate map” or alter it in any way following this terrorist attack.
Despite this history, the SPLC’s “hate map” received a new lease on life after the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., last summer. CNN broadcast the SPLC’s “hate map” on its website and Twitter account, while ABC and NBC parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” label against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a prominent legal firm that has won 7 Supreme Court cases in seven years.
The SPLC has also received large contributions from large influential companies like J.P. Morgan ($500,000), Apple ($1 million, with other benefits), Pfizer, Bank of America, and Newman’s Own (more than $8,900 each). The SPLC takes in $50 million in contributions each year, had $328 million in net assets in 2015, and has sent at least $4.4 million to accounts in the Cayman Islands.
Various companies have started blacklisting groups on the SPLC “hate group” list. Last year, Vanco Payments withdrew its service from the Ruth Institute, a pro-family nonprofit which made the “hate list” for adopting language on LGBT issues straight out of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. The charity navigation website GuideStar briefly adopted the SPLC “hate group” label for each page on its website, inspiring a lawsuit from the Christian nonprofit Liberty Counsel. Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz followed up with his own lawsuit against the SPLC for defamation, and D. James Kennedy Ministries sued the SPLC after Amazon denied the group access to its charity program, Amazon Smile.
The SPLC’s president, Richard Cohen, has admitted that the “hate group” list is based on “opinion,” an admission that echoed a former SPLC spokesman’s remarks that the list is based on “strictly ideological” factors. Even so, SPLC leaders have declared that the group’s “aim in life is to destroy these groups.”
How do such “opinions” form? Nawaz presented an interesting case. In a series of three videos, the anti-terror group Quilliam International revealed the SPLC’s ever-changing reasons for listing Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist.” One of the reasons the SPLC gave for targeting Nawaz? His visit to a strip club for his bachelor party.
The SPLC has pushed LGBT issues into elementary school curriculum in the name of “teaching tolerance,” while marking any group that disagrees with LGBT pride and identity as “hateful.”
The SPLC also marked the innocent historic town of Amana Colonies on its “hate map,” because a white supremacist website claimed to have had a book club in one of the town’s restaurants. The group did eventually remove the innocent town from the map, but it later published another map of every “monument” to Confederate historical figures, including military bases and elementary schools.
The SPLC is at the center of the nexus of left-wing groups Spotify chose to partner with them in the interests of censoring “hate content.” While the music streaming service did announce its intention to remove all “hate content,” Spotify added a caveat: “it’s important to remember that cultural standards and sensitivities vary widely. That means there will always be content that is acceptable in some circumstances, but is offensive in others, and we will always look at the entire context.”
“When we are alerted to content that violates our policy, we may remove it (in consultation with rights holders) or refrain from promoting or manually programming it on our service,” Spotify added. In other words, not all “hate content” will necessarily be removed, but it may be restricted from promotion.
Spotify also announced that if “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.”
As Reason‘s Christian Britschgi pointed out, the “hate content” policy is an “ambiguous mess doomed to failure.” Britschgi noted that “music, including a lot of incredibly popular music, is full of hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise appalling messages. Attempting to sort the truly objectionable from the merely edgy or dated will only lend itself to arbitrary enforcement.”
A trailer for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a movie about Queen and its extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury, dropped on Tuesday. The impressive hit song from which the movie gets its name has been interpreted as representing Mercury’s struggle with his homosexuality, which he reportedly suppressed for a long time in his life. If the SPLC argued that the song normalizes the decision to suppress such desires, they could brand the beloved hit “hateful” and get it restricted on Spotify.
While Spotify is unlikely to downplay “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the SPLC’s penchant for politically motivated and wanton “hate” labeling makes even this absurd scenario less unlikely.
As a private company, Spotify has the freedom to pursue this course. However the censorship of “hate content” turns out in practice, it is never a good idea to have a group of one-sided political activists controlling the conversation. Spotify should reconsider its policy, or failing that, reconsider its partners. The company may want to drop one partner in particular.