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Spotify is removing white supremacist and neo-Nazi bands from its music library

Music has historically been a recruitment tool for the far right.

Thomas Trutschel/Getty

Spotify is removing bands affiliated with the white power music scene from its catalog, the streaming music service announced on Wednesday. The move, first reported by Digital Music News, follows a growing trend in which tech companies — including GoDaddy, PayPal, and Apple — are publicly denying service to white supremacist and alt-right organizations, or distancing themselves from their content.

On Monday, Digital Music News writer Paul Resnikoff found 37 bands on Spotify with affiliations to neo-Nazi and white supremacist hate groups. Resnikoff looked them up on the streaming service after going back to a list originally curated by Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014, when it investigated the presence of bands on iTunes whose music featured racial supremacy–themed lyrics.

Such lyrics include lines like “I get so sick of all those Mosques, those silly hats / They wear / Can’t stand their stupid monkey language, I hate their / Women’s facial hair,” from a song called “Rock Against Islam” by the band Kill, Baby, Kill!

Apple ultimately removed the artists from iTunes. But as Resnikoff discovered on Monday, many of them remained on Spotify.

In response to Resnikoff’s story, Spotify announced that it would remove the bands from its catalog, issuing the following statement:

Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention. 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.

A spokesperson for Spotify later told Billboard that the company’s catalog contains music from “hundreds of thousands of record companies and aggregators,” and that those companies are "at first hand responsible" for any questionable content delivered to Spotify. Nevertheless, the spokesperson said that “illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us.”

The process for removing hate music from digital music libraries may be a complicated one. As Billboard notes, companies must assess the difference between free speech and hate speech, understand different laws for different music markets, and sift through lyrics that are increasingly coded in their messaging.

Coded language that masks hate speech with ambiguity and a music scene built around vague calls to embrace white supremacist ideology have helped many hate groups expand their audience.

“They’ve long known that music was a main avenue for their message as it related to connecting people to a community that could solidify them within that movement,” Aaron Flanagan, the director of research the anti-racist organization Center for New Community told the SPLC in 2014.

Such music is also a very practical way for hate groups to raise money.

As David Koehler, the director of research at Germany’s Institute for the Study of Radical Movements, told NPR in 2013: “That music is not just a recruitment tool, but also a very important tool for financing infrastructure, networks; and to buy guns and to buy explosives, and to sustain militant groups.”

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