Joseph Cohen

How I uncovered a cesspit of hatred on Spotify

It took me a matter of minutes to identify songs by the most infamous neo-Nazi bands, says Joseph Cohen

February 05, 2021 14:20

In 2018, Spotify introduced a policy banning ‘hate content’. Curious to know how effective it had been, I searched the platform for three famous White Power bands, Skrewdriver, Brutal Attack and Bound for Glory. Of the three, only Bound for Glory had songs available on Spotify. However, after digging a little deeper, I discovered that the lead singer of Brutal Attack and the guitarist from Skrewdriver were available under the name Ken and Stigger. Spotify may have announced that it had banned hate content, but I’d found some of the most infamous neo-Nazi artists in a matter of minutes.

Spotify defines 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.” After reading this, I decided to see if I could find songs that were expressly and principally antisemitic.

I found many. Ranging from a band called Unearthly, who screamed they’d “bring Holocaust back” on a track called Zyklon B, which is the gas used by the Nazis to kill Jews, to Payday Monsanto rapping about Holocaust denial in his song Goy Boy.

It was worrying that I could find these songs so quickly. With a quick search, I was able to uncover dozens of bigotted songs and bands. Why hadn’t Spotify been able to identify them? I’m one person; they’re a multi-billion dollar company. Platforms like Facebook have developed sophisticated algorithms to detect content that violates their policies, alongside easy ways for their users to report it. In contrast, Spotify appears to rely on their users reporting content, and there’s no easy way to do this (you have to leave the app, visit the website and fill in a form).

Additionally, Facebook’s definition of hate content is broader than Spotify’s and includes “harmful stereotypes”. Compare that to Spotify, which appears to limit its definition to content that “principally” incites hatred. So when Jay-Z raps to his 19 million monthly Spotify listeners that “Jewish people own all the property in America”, he doesn’t obviously fall foul of Spotify’s policies.

A cynic could suggest that Spotify’s processes and policies are intentionally more relaxed than those of Facebook, as there are severe financial implications when Spotify removes content. The more songs its definition of hate content includes, the more it hurts the bottom line. Spotify depends on its listeners for subscription and ad revenue. Each time it categorises and removes a track for policy violations, it risks losing its audience to alternative providers where the song is still available.

Most of the antisemitism I found didn’t “principally” incite hatred, but it can still be considered dangerous. In fact, of all the genres I researched, there appeared to be more antisemitism in hip-hop than any other. I discovered lots of rappers boasting they were so rich they’d achieved “Jewish Money”. This stereotype draws on a centuries-old depiction of Jews as collectively wealthy, greedy and powerful. An example of this would be Offset’s song, Underrated, which includes the lyric “Tryna get more richer than the Jews”. Offset has 10 million monthly Spotify listeners.

An unexpected trope that kept appearing was the stereotype of the “Jewish Lawyer”. This typically depicts Jews as litigious, smart, greedy, exploitative and dishonest. There were dozens of artists on Spotify boasting about their Jewish lawyers. Even stars like Cardi B have rapped “Lawyer is a Jew, he gon’ chew up all the charges” to her 37 million monthly listeners.

These artists may not harbour any malice towards Jewish people. However, by repeating these antisemitic tropes, they’re contributing to a culture of antisemitism that could ultimately lead to someone inflicting harm upon Jews.

Whichever way you look at it, Spotify is profiting from hate content. A quick search turns up numerous tracks and artists that appear to violate its policy. This is on top of the many antisemitic references that haven’t necessarily breached its definition of hate content.

Spotify needs to do more to enforce its current policy. It should also make it easier to report hate content that violates its terms. Finally, its relaxed definition of hate content has led to their platform hosting antisemitism, racism, homophobia and misogyny. They need to do much more to tackle this serious problem.


Joseph Cohen is the founder of the Israel Advocacy Movement


February 05, 2021 14:20

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