Why haven't iTunes and Spotify removed dozens of "hate bands" from their services?
In the Winter 2014 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report," there's a fascinating article by Keegan Hankes called "Music & Money & Hate." Within it, Hankes details 54 musical groups identified by the SPLC as "hate bands" whose albums, despite being full of racist lyrics, are available to buy on iTunes. All this, despite iTunes' own Terms and Conditions which mandates that content "shall not infringe or violate the rights of any other party or violate any laws, contribute to or encourage infringing or otherwise unlawful conduct, or otherwise be obscene, objectionable, or in poor taste.”
To drive home the extent to which this hate music is "objectionable, or in poor taste," Hankes quotes a song from a band called the Bully Boys, which features stomach-churning lyrics like, “Leave no stone unturned / We’re going to burn until the last Jew burns / Fire up the ovens, fire up the ovens / Fire up the ovens — let’s do it again!”
According to Hankes, iTunes' Legal Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment which, to be honest, is baffling to me. This isn't an issue of free speech. No one is saying authorities should remove these albums from the Internet. This is an issue of a company worth nearly $700 billion profiting off of deplorable hate music. You would never catch Wal-Mart or Target selling these albums -- Wal-Mart has even banned albums from mainstream artists like Prince and Green Day for the kind of barely-offensive content one might find in a PG-13 movie.
It's also reasonable to suggest that, while hate speech on platforms like Twitter and Facebook are equally deplorable, on iTunes there's a more direct relationship between hateful content and revenue. When a hate band sells an album, iTunes gets its 30 percent cut. The more hate albums sell, the more money Apple gets.
So is Apple unique in its failure to police hate music? Or are other online platforms just as guilty? To find out, I cross-referenced the 54 names on the SPLC's list against the library at Spotify, the fastest-growing on-demand streaming service in the world. Regrettably, 33 of these bands can also be found on Spotify. However, the three most high-profile hate groups as identified by Hankes -- Skrewdriver, the Bully Boys, and Max Resist -- were not on Spotify, suggesting that the company does have some enforcement of hate-speech in place.
Here's what the company wrote back after I reached out about their policy:
We take this very seriously. Content (artists and music) listed by the BPjM in Germany (Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien/Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons) is proactively removed from our service. We’re a global company, so we use the BPjM index as a global standard for these issues. Other potentially hateful or objectionable content that is flagged by uses or others but not on the BPjM list is handled on a case by case basis.Although hate music still exists on Spotify, at least the company has clear guidelines on how it polices this content. Calling on Hankes' article again, he sums up the very legitimate outrage we should feel over Apple's apparent non-intervention:
While it is unknown exactly how much revenue hate music is generating through iTunes sales, it is clear that what was formerly one of the most important arms of the white power movement is now making full use of the iTunes platform. What remains to be seen is whether iTunes will take action. Until then, hate music and its message will continue to prosper with the help of one of the world’s largest companies.[illustration by Hallie Bateman]