“My red flag moment is not R. Kelly’s dilemma, but how far will the policy stretch?”

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Whether it’s Google’s manipulative search results, YouTube’s ad-pocalypse or Twitter’s shadow banning, it’s all the same.

Censorship. It’s a word that’s been receiving a lot of attention lately. Just recently I read that Spotify, a music-streaming platform, was making a move to bar the infamous pied piper himself, R. Kelly, from their curated playlists. Now that’s not anything extreme unless they were going to remove all of his content from their platform.

A particular issue I see is with banning controversial figures from playlists because their actions or views don’t align with the company is that these playlists are powerful means for getting music heard these days — at least that’s what I hear. Basically, these playlists are like a performance boosts from the company that can give an artist the advantage of more ears than someone who’s not on a playlist.

Now in the case of R. Kelly this move may have its merits. I don’t follow him close enough these days, if at all, but the guy seems to be a magnet for negative publicity. But if we were to look at the bigger picture of having a “music-streaming service ban or bury music or artists it judges to be “hateful,” whether it be songs that incite violence or artists whose conduct it won’t tolerate,” then it stretches the scope from preventing hate or violence towards one into censorship. That’s a lot of power these tech companies have if that’s the case.

In their policy it says, “we don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. When 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.”

But that’s not a bad policy on its face. No company should want to align themselves with those examples, especially if they’re the ones promoting them. But looking closer, it’s turning a company into an arbitrator of morality akin to a religion, like Christianity, would with sin. So in the case of R. Kelly, because he’s a musician with an ugly public perception over the years, he’s essentially barred from certain privileges within this company — their playlists and possibly future deals.

My red flag moment is not R. Kelly’s dilemma, but how far will the policy stretch? Because the policy is about hate, which is largely subjective and in the eye of the beholder. A song like FDT by YG could pass as hateful content. And honestly, hate of any kind is something we should not try to suppress so quickly because it may prove to be an ineffective way of dealing with it and one that unfortunately ignites it.

Also, in the policy it says, “hate content is 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.” Again, on its face this looks reasonable, but it’s vague. It leaves an open-ended interpretation to what hate content could be and apply to. Also, it would seem that hate content is permissible as long as none of these characteristics are involved. Loophole?

But this reminds me of an article about a proposed law on anti-semitism, which eloquently states it’s “highly controversial because it conflates criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Jewish hatred, shutting down debate by suggesting that anyone who looks critically at Israeli policy is somehow beyond the pale.”

The key point in the quote above is confusing criticism for hate. So when I used YG’s song FDT as an example, it could fall on either side of that spectrum depending on who you ask because again, the eye of the beholder. But I understand as I say all of this that it’s probably unlikely this policy will affect an artist with views deemed “controversial” (like Kanye West or Lupe Fiasco) from fully expressing themselves and flourishing in this technological world.

I personally say let the public — the market — decide versus instituting censor-like parameters. Because although this is about music, what’s preventing these types of policies from spreading further (from public or political pressure) to elsewhere, essentially cutting off certain groups or people (i.e. those with valid yet controversial views) from accessing valued services because of their perceived public or private “misbehavior?”

It might not seem so obvious, but if I’m understanding it correctly, it’s starting to look an awful lot like a Black Mirror episode or worse — China!

Now that’s something we should not get too comfortable with because these companies (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, etc) have positioned themselves to either make or break a creator and if it so happens to be one who’s considered “controversial” (another overly used word) or not in alignment with whatever order of the day, then that creator’s freedom of expression, including his or her distaste toward something or someone, could be perceived as hate and silenced to the shadows as punishment.

I think that’s a pretty bold statement for what’s suppose to represent a free and open society because one day it could be you up against the censors.

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