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Hear no evil: Spotify makes an effort to strike 'hate music' from its platform

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A national effort is underway to take down Confederate statues and symbols in major U.S. cities. Now music streaming services, like Spotify, are also joining the efforts to obscure white power messages and neo-Nazi groups from their platforms. 

Three years ago, Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a list identifying violent, white-nationalist, and hate-fueled music and groups available on Spotify.

On Monday, Digital Music News' publisher Paul Resnikoff posted the article "I Just Found 37 White Supremacist Bands on Spotify." In the article, Resnikoff said there hadn't been a streamlined effort to remove these bands after the wake of the Nazi rally and terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since the article came out, Spotify has started purging these bands from their streaming platform, stating "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."

Music service Deezer has also announced its maintenance to remove white-nationalist, Nazi, or other "hate-music" from their services.

But both Spotify and Deezer are private companies. So this means their obligation to adhere to first amendment principles and honor their artists' rights to free speech is null in cases such as this. 

But removing this vein of music isn't going to be simple. Resnikoff says a lot of the groups' lyrics or sounds convey covert racism. He says, "I got the sense that there's a more hardcore group of bands out there that are more overt. But those would have been flagged in an earlier period."

Without lyrics to signal white-nationalist content, deeper research into the band's members and history might be necessary. An example of this is "Fashwave," ("Fash" standing for fascism) music. The sound is synth-heavy with little-to-no lyrics and the political ideologies live within the sonic lining of the music. Fashwave producers, musicians, and distributors identify as fascists and are making music meant to be completely free from African rhythmic influence. 

Resnikoff said after publishing the article on Monday, a debate sparked over how to identify hate-music in situations where the music isn't overtly supremacist. Resnikoff says:

One group that came up, that I'd listed, is this group Bölzer. Their this Swiss, extreme death metal band. I listened to their music and instrumentally it sounded pretty good. They had a pretty decent following but the leader singer has swastika tattoos and other tattoos of Nazi-era type symbols. That gets a little bit confusing because then in an interview, he denied that they had any reference to the Nazi era, that the symbols predated the Nazi period.

So you go back and forth and have to make a determination on your own about what you think. I judge that to be racist but other people didn't.

It's important to note that type of music can be found all over the world. Resnikoff says as he listened and dug through the recesses of Spotify's libraries, he was finding white-supremacist followings in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Austrailia.

But after Charlottesville, Resnikoff said listenership was growing, triggering Spotify's recommendation algorithm to connect listeners with more on-brand groups. He says:

I knew this was an issue on YouTube. Their smart algorithms use a lot of methods for recommending other bands you might like, and a lot of that is based on what other people are listening to. That creates this 'affinity clump' which I was able to see. It wasn't too hard to find additional groups based on these reccomendation algorithms.

To hear the full interview, click the blue bar above.

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