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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Spotify has a white supremacist problem, watchdog says

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! Here's to hoping my playlist recommendations don't suddenly get weird. Send your favorite love songs (and news tips) to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

First: The Twitter employee who testified before the Jan. 6 committee steps forward, and the Senate confirms President Biden's nominee to lead the White House's science and technology office. First:

Spotify has a white supremacist problem, watchdog says

Music-streaming giant Spotify says it prohibits content that “promotes or supports terrorism or violent extremism,” but an investigation by a civil rights group found at least 40 white supremacist artists on the platform.

The report adds to calls for Spotify to crack down on hate speech and other harmful content, which have gained steam as a growing cast of tech companies face pressure to boost safety on their services.

While some of the groups drew followings only in the double digits, others amassed thousands of subscribers and earned statuses as “verified” artists, according to a report shared exclusively with The Technology 202 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit that tracks extremism and anti-Semitism.

ADL investigative researcher Calum Farley, who wrote the report, said “there’s likely much more” white supremacist content on Spotify than what they uncovered. “This is a continuing issue, despite changes by Spotify in their guidelines and their explicit anti-extremism policies,” he said.

The findings show major gaps in Spotify’s enforcement of its rules.

“Despite adding explicit anti-extremist guidelines to their content policy, Spotify allows extremist content to flourish,” the group wrote. “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 wrote that the findings show that it’s “very easy” to become verified on Spotify, and raises questions about “whether or how the platform exercises any oversight over the process.” Spotify's own YouTube tutorial on how artists get verified describes it as being “how you let your fans know you're legit” and “super quick and easy.”

“When we become aware of potentially violating content on our platform, our teams carefully review that content against our policies and take the appropriate action,” Spotify spokesman Adam Grossberg said in a statement. 

He added that the “content found to be in violation of our Platform Rules has been removed,” including dozens of pieces of content, and that since the beginning of the year Spotify has “removed more than 12,000 podcast episodes, 19,000 playlists, 160 music tracks, and nearly 20 albums for violating our hate content policy globally.”

Some of the artists removed by Spotify decried the actions as “censorship” and denied any suggestion of illegal activity in response to inquiries from The Washington Post.

Much of the artists’ Spotify content identified by the ADL either makes references to fascism or the National Socialist Party, known as the Nazi Party. 

Some of the songs featured clips of speeches by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, while others included sound bites of Fox News host Tucker Carlson alluding to the so-called “great replacement” anti-immigration theory embraced by white supremacists. 

Other songs featured cover art depicting images identified by ADL as hate symbols, including a neo-Nazi skull once adopted by Hitler, the infamous “Pepe the Frog” symbol and the “Iron Cross” used as a medal by Nazi Germany.

According to the ADL, the artists also served as a gateway to other white supremacist content, “sharing links in their profiles to other extremist spaces.”

Civil rights groups for years have sounded the alarm about how music can serve as a gateway into extremism and called on platforms like Spotify to shut off the pipeline.

While some of the links to extremist ideologies were more apparent, others were subtle, hidden beneath lyricless electronic sounds or screeching guitar riffs, Farley found.

“They might be attracted to the sounds or the types of songs, and then they start reading the lyrics of the songs, and they can see the extremist narratives that are in these songs,” he said. “So it’s a way of pulling people into different spaces … where they can then be further radicalized within them.”

Spotify has repeatedly come under fire for not curbing hate speech and racism.

In 2017, a news investigation uncovered 37 bands with links to neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups, prompting the platform to remove them, according to Vox News. In December, the company took down 150 hours of content after Sky News said it “found antisemitic, racist and white supremacist material in podcasts” on Spotify.

Farley argued that Spotify should have the same responsibility to crack down on extremism and hate speech as do social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter because they not only host music that artists profit from, but also allow users to share content and playlists and form communities.

“They’re providing not just a platform for music, but they’re also providing basically that platform [for] further outreach in darker, more extreme spaces,” he said.

Our top tabs

Former Twitter official who testified before Jan. 6 panel tells why she stepped forward

The whistleblower, Anika Collier Navaroli, exclusively told The Post that her fear about coming forward was overcome by worries that extremism and political disinformation on social media pose an “imminent threat not just to American democracy, but to the societal fabric of our planet,” Drew Harwell reports. In July, the Jan. 6 committee featured testimony by Navaroli that Twitter executives tolerated former president Donald Trump because they knew the site was his “favorite and most-used … and enjoyed having that sort of power.”

Navaroli was a policy official working on the team at Twitter designing its content-moderation rules. She told the committee that Trump “would have been permanently suspended a very long time ago” if he was any other user. Twitter banned Trump two days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol over fears that he could incite more violence. 

She recalled an incident when she was growing up in Florida when police refused to press charges against a man who tried to run her down with a truck, saying his shouts for her to go back to where she came from were protected by the First Amendment. “So for a lot of my career and a lot of my life, I have been trying to understand this interpretation of this amendment and this right in a way that makes sense,” she said.

Executives at Twitter have argued that Navaroli’s testimony leaves out the “unprecedented steps” it took to respond to threats amid the 2020 election. Representatives for the company and Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Senate confirms Prabhakar to lead the White House’s science and technology office

Arati Prabhakar is the first immigrant, woman and person of color confirmed to lead the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Bloomberg Law’s Jeannie Baumann reports. Prabhakar was confirmed in a 56-40 vote, with 10 Republicans voting to confirm her. She previously led the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Prabhakar will probably begin working as OSTP director in the next couple weeks, an OSTP spokesperson told Bloomberg Law. Alondra Nelson, the active director of OSTP, is expected to go back to her previous position as the office’s deputy director for science and society.

The previous Senate-confirmed leader of OSTP, Eric Lander, resigned in February after he acknowledged and apologized for demeaning his subordinates.

Facebook unfairly restricted Palestinians’ posts, audit finds

The report by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) found that Facebook parent Meta denied the freedom of expression of Palestinian users during a two-week war between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas last year, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. The report, which Facebook commissioned after a recommendation from its Oversight Board, is an indictment of Facebook’s ability to police its platform around the world and during wartime.

The report found that Facebook removed or added strikes to more posts from Palestinians than Israelis, and Facebook software routinely flagged potentially rule-breaking Arabic content more often than content in Hebrew, Elizabeth reports.

The company will implement 10 of BSR’s 21 recommendations, will partly implement four and is “assessing the feasibility” of another six, Meta’s human rights director, Miranda Sissons, wrote in a response. It won’t take “further action” on one.

Agency scanner

FTC says Jeff Bezos, others at Amazon must testify in agency’s probe (The Wall Street Journal)

Hill happenings

Senate panel approves bill to give news organizations more power against tech platforms (Reuters)

Elon Musk should provide internet in Iran, lawmakers urge Yellen (Bloomberg News)

Inside the industry

Study of large incel internet forum raises alarms about its growth (Taylor Lorenz)

‘They are watching’: Inside Russia’s vast surveillance state (The New York Times)

Musk can use $7.8 million Twitter whistleblower payment in his counterclaims (Bloomberg News)

Proton CEO is shutting down India VPN servers to protest cybersecurity rules (The Wall Street Journal)

Pinterest admits site was not safe before death of British teen Molly Russell (Financial Times)

Privacy monitor

Health apps share your concerns with advertisers. HIPAA can’t stop it. (Tatum Hunter and Jeremy B. Merrill)

EU privacy watchdog sues lawmakers over new Europol mandate (Politico Europe)

Workforce report

U.S. lawmakers push tech firms on abortion benefits for gig workers (WIRED)

Amazon routinely hired dangerous trucking companies, with deadly consequences (The Wall Street Journal)

Trending

There's something fishy happening between Gab and a far-right GOP candidate

Daybook

  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Sameera Fazili, the deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, speak at an event hosted by the The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution on the technology and service sectors on Wednesday.
  • Microsoft chief information security officer Bret Arsenault discusses cloud innovation and security at a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
  • The House Science Committee holds a hearing on artificial intelligence Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
  • Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top ranking members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, discuss privacy legislation at a Washington Post Live event Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • Raimondo discusses semiconductor legislation at an event hosted by the Global Tech Security Commission on Thursday at 11:15 a.m.

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