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Spotify Forms Council to Advise on Safety Versus Censorship

Spotify's Safety Advisory Council comes after an artist backlash over COVID misinformation on Joe Rogan's podcast.

Joe Rogan Podcast on Spotify
James Martin/CNET

Spotify said Monday it has created a new Safety Advisory Council of experts and organizations focused on online safety. The council's mission "is to help Spotify evolve its policies and products in a safe way" while still respecting creator expression.

It's a move to help Spotify navigate problems where freedom of expression is at odds with effectively policing the most objectionable or dangerous material on its service. That tension burst into public view earlier this year, when COVID-19 misinformation on Joe Rogan's popular podcast stoked a handful of artists to pull their music off Spotify in protest. 

After the Rogan backlash, Spotify said it didn't want to play the role of "content censor." But it publicly published its platform rules outlining what kinds of content aren't allowed, and it took other steps to familiarize artists with the rules and to enforce them. 

Spotify, the biggest streaming service by both listeners and subscribers, is grappling with a dilemma that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other internet giants have struggled to sort out: how to balance freedom of expression with effective moderation of the most objectionable material on their platforms. 

But while the likes of Facebook and YouTube must reckon with policing content uploaded independently by users at mind-boggling scale, Spotify has two different challenges. For one, it's seeking to to carve out an identity of neutrality after investing heavily in controversial figures such as Rogan, a political lightning rod whose exclusivity deal with Spotify has been estimated at $100 million. But Spotify must also navigate changing attitudes about the behavior of artists, like a debate over Spotify including songs in its catalog by R. Kelly, now a convicted sex trafficker. 

On Monday, Spotify said many of the members of its Safety Advisory Council have already been providing the company with feedback. Members will advise Spotify teams in areas like policy, safety-feature development, equity, impact and academic research, but the council will not make enforcement decisions about specific pieces of content or creators, Spotify said. 

The idea is that council helps shape high-level policies and Spotify's internal processes so policies may be applied consistently around the world, the company said, adding that the council will expand with more members in the months ahead.