1984 Came and Went: Streaming as a New Form of Censorship

A week and a half ago, Progarchy’s brilliant editor-in-chief wrote an editorial about music streaming services. I agree wholeheartedly with his reservations regarding streaming music. Brad attributed his luddite ways to being 50. Well, I’m 24 and I think streaming music is hogwash, so age has nothing to do with it.

For one, I like having a physical CD to look at. I like the artwork, and being able to read the lyrics is important to me. In comparing my own reviews with other writers out there on the internet or in magazines, I’ve noticed I focus on lyrics more than most, so that just goes to show the importance I place on reading the lyrics.

I also occasionally buy albums from iTunes, which probably happens more frequently than I buy CDs. I like owning the product. I’ve downloaded the files, and no one can take that away from me. Nobody. The same goes for CDs. Once I’ve purchased it, the music is mine for as long as the CD still plays music (which isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things – they say a CD only lasts about 20 years, although depending on the conditions in which they are kept, they can last longer). iTunes files, CDs, and download sites like Bandcamp also have much higher audio quality than streaming.

In thumbing through the Drudge Report earlier today, I came across this headline from Billboard: Spotify Removes R. Kelly Music From Its Playlists As Part of New “Hate” Policy. I have no clue who R. Kelly is, and I’ve never listened to any of his music. The article on Billboard says Spotify said they will still have his music on their service, but they will not promote it in any way or include it in their algorithms to make it show up in people’s playlists.

For anybody who has a passing interest in YouTube, you may have heard of the “adpocalypse” where YouTube is suppressing anything that doesn’t conform to the leftist agenda to appease their leftist advertisers who have threatened to leave the platform. Ok, it didn’t exactly start that way. It started when ads were popping up on ISIS or other terrorist-inspired videos. Not surprisingly, companies weren’t too happy about their products being advertised on videos promoting terrorism. However, since then, YouTube has pulled advertisements from any channels they deem offensive. These so-called offenses happen to fall largely upon political lines – channels with fairly large followings that cover topics such as firearms, swords, or anything even remotely anti-feminist or pro-Trump get demonetized. They also demonetize anything that depicts violence, so if someone makes their own dramatic or action videos (like a series or movie) and uploads it, YouTube may demonetize it, even though it isn’t promoting violence. The videos I’m talking about are all for educational or entertainment purposes, yet they get suppressed because someone at YouTube gets offended because it doesn’t match their politics.

YouTube has three ways of suppressing content creators:

  1. Remove videos they find offensive, and ban channels/creators who get a certain amount of “strikes”
  2. Remove advertising from videos, which means the creators won’t get paid for their content
  3. Suppress videos by removing them (or entire channels) from the YouTube algorithms, which essentially means the videos won’t be seen by most viewers

It appears Spotify is beginning to use those tactics as well. You may say, “so what if Spotify suppresses a rapper I don’t listen to or care about?”  You should care because their reason behind doing so is rather frightening. They are suppressing R. Kelly’s music because somebody accused him of doing something. No conviction in court. Guilty until proven innocent. The new American way. (See the Robert Meuller investigation for another example of “guilty until proven innocent” in our “justice” system.)

Admittedly, what Spotify is now doing is not complete censorship in the traditional understanding of the word because you can still listen to R. Kelly’s music on the platform. However, the algorithms and playlists have become the primary way people consume media on streaming sites. People depend on those algorithms to find new music similar to what they have told Spotify they like, and music creators depend on those algorithms to get their content out to listeners in this new age of music consumption. Thus, removing a creator from the algorithms is a form of censorship.

I’m not defending what R. Kelly may be guilty of. I don’t care about him or his music. I do care about this nasty precedent Spotify is establishing. What would stop them from censoring any of our favorite progressive rock artists if the political correctness or social justice arrow started to point in our direction. After all, prog is a very caucasian and European and North and South American genre (Japan, too). What if the social justice warriors decide our music isn’t “inclusive” enough, even though anyone is allowed to make prog and anyone can listen to it, and the lyrics aren’t derogatory towards particular groups of people. Even when Roger Waters used racial slurs in The Wall and The Final Cut, he used those as a form of cultural commentary, not as any sort of derision towards specific people groups. But what if Spotify doesn’t see it that way? What if the backlash from those who dislike our music becomes great enough to cause Spotify to suppress prog. Would prog artists push back? Would we as consumers?

Do you see this inherent danger? Have we really forgotten what happened under the Soviet Union, where people had to smuggle western music across heavily guarded borders? I don’t want any kind of censorship. As offensive as something anyone might say may be, I still support their right to say it (or sing it). Even in R. Kelly’s case, the music is being suppressed not for the content itself, but because of an accusation made against the creator. That is doubly egregious. Banning art because we don’t like the creator is a very Orwellian tactic.

All of these things I’ve described won’t happen overnight. It’ll be gradual. But it clearly can and will happen, since it is happening right now (just not in the progressive rock genre). If you don’t care about the potential for censorship, then by all means, go ahead and keep streaming. This R. Kelly situation has just added another reason for me to not using streaming services. I like my CDS, and I like my iTunes library based upon those CDs. And I like that no algorithm will ever control what I choose to place into my iTunes library or physical collection, and no one can stop me from listening to whatever I want.

4 thoughts on “1984 Came and Went: Streaming as a New Form of Censorship

  1. Very well said Bryan!!! And as always…………..I AGREE with it 110%!!! EVEN if it’s content that does NOT appeal to me personally,in the SLIGHTEST……….That STILL would never make me say “I want this content REMOVED from ” ” site!!!

    Exact same goes with Language!!! JUST BECAUSE I DISLIKE WHAT Your saying,doesn’t AT ALL………….give me the right for You NOT TO SAY IT!!! PERIOD!!! Folks,that’s what America was built on,and what EVERY SINGLE PERSON who’s ever died in a War,fought for!!! So does that STILL hold relevance in “today’s” world??? You BET YOUR *******-*** it does!!!

    ~Peace~

    Liked by 2 people

  2. kruekutt

    Almost in spite of its generally favorable view of Spotify’s actions, this article from The Atlantic has plenty of solid information on the kerfuffle: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/05/spotifys-lonely-stance-against-alleged-abuse/560150/

    Noting the list of “groups of experts” Spotify plans to consult in administering its “Hate Content and Hateful Content” policy (see the third paragraph), I think your concerns are absolutely legit, Bryan. It really does sound like Orwell, albeit embodied within hyper-capitalism.

    I’ve subscribed to Spotify Premium since it was launched in the US. I’m under no illusions that it substantively supports the artists & music I enjoy. (The major labels’ equity stakes in it preclude that almost as a given.) Nonetheless, it has its uses: as a “try before you buy” service (the new David Cross/David Jackson collaboration Another Day is on deck for this morning); as a convenient way to listen to music when away from my home stereo system; as a way to provide additional income (however infinitesimal) to artists whose music I’ve already bought once — even if I sold the CD! For my purposes, it serves as a highly curated radio station or album replay hub.

    While I plan to eventually downsize my physical collection (been talking about it for 10 years — hasn’t substantively happened yet), I don’t see myself ever making the full conversion to streaming. As you & Brad have said, I like to own my music. But I’m wondering if, with the music industry back to the relative size & cultural influence it had before Elvis & the Beatles, we’re in the minority. The ever present rumors that Apple will drop downloads in the near future would suggest that possibility. I, for one, thoroughly look forward to embracing curmudgeon status at that point.

    Liked by 1 person

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