Spotify likes to talk a big game about how it prohibits extremist content on its platform, but that doesn’t mean it actually does something about it, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League. The watchdog group criticized the streaming platform for allowing dozens of white supremacist artists on its platform, verifying them, and promoting their music to unsuspecting listeners.
In the report, the ADL’s Center on Extremism found 40 white supremacist artists across a variety of music genres and sub-genres aiming to spread white supremacist ideology, promote antisemitism and racism, and promote fascism. Many of the artists identified by the ADL were verified, the organization stated, and used their profiles to share links to other extremist spaces. Being verified on Spotify allows white supremacist artists to be included in the platform’s official curated playlists.
One example of this is Wiking 1940, an Italian National Socialist Black Metal band, which is a sub-genre of heavy metal. According to the ADL, one of Wiking 1940’s most popular singles, titled “Sonnenrad,” referring to a Nordic symbol representing the far-right, was on Spotify. The song began with excerpts from a speech given by Adolf Hitler and had antisemitic lyrics. Wiking 1940’s music was included in more than 20 user and platform-created playlists on Spotify.
Wiking 1940 and another band, Pugilato NSHC, were removed after the ADL published its report.
Furthermore, users can easily create and share their own playlists “inspired” by white supremacist artists. When searching for the terms Fashwave, Rock Against Communism, and National Socialist Black Metal playlists, which are the three most popular genres of white supremacist music on Spotify, the ADL found approximately 100 user-created playlists. Many of the playlists had an cover art that included extremist and neo-Nazi imagery.
Extremist content is against Spotify’s platform rules, the center notes, but enforcement so far appears to be lax. Spotify’s lack of action is especially worrying considering the country’s recent tragedies, such as the mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York supermarket, which authorities have called a “racially-motivated hate crime.”
In June, the Department of Homeland Security said the country was in “heightened threat environment” and pointed out that threat actors had recently mobilized due to “adherence to violent extremist ideologies, including racially or ethnically motivated or anti-government/anti-authority violent extremism.”
Spotify allows “extremist content to flourish,” the ADL wrote in its report. This is happening despite the new anti-extremist guidelines the platform added to its rules in recent months, the ADL noted.
“Between the extremist content found in some artists’ bios, the white supremacist messaging in some band’s lyrics and the white supremacist imagery found in the cover art, Spotify still has considerable work to do in implementing its new policy,” the ADL stated.
When asked for comment on the ADL report, a Spotify spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email on Sunday that it takes content concerns very seriously and that much of the content referenced by the ADL violated its rules and had been removed. The spokesperson pointed out that its team of in-house experts regularly examines and takes action against content that goes against its rules. Algorithmic measures are also in place to ensure content acquires to Spotify’s rules.
However, Gizmodo on Sunday was able to find and play music from five of the white supremacist artists identified by the ADL, including Ironmensch, OBNX, Kushfrost, Übermensch, Mayhem, and DJ Dark Matter. (The ADL did not list all 40 artists in its public report.) Some of the artists found by Gizmodo have considering followings. Mayhem, for instance, has 316,701 monthly listeners; Übermensch has 30,321 monthly listeners; and OBNX has 12,418 monthly listeners. Others, like Ironmensch (53 monthly listeners) had smaller ones.
So far this year, Spotify stated it had removed 12,000 podcast episodes, 19,000 playlists, 160 music tracks, and nearly 20 albums for violating its hate content policy on a global level.
“We recognize that even with our continued innovation and investments when it comes to moderation, there is always more work to be done,” a Spotify spokesperson told Gizmodo, adding: “We also remain open to engaging in a dialogue with organizations, including the ADL, so that we might benefit from their expertise and continue to improve the safety of our platform.”