The release of the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” presenting the case of two men who allege they were the victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson, has reignited an old debate. People ask themselves whether, as even more evidence piles up against him, they are still “allowed” to enjoy the music created by Jackson, and even wonder whether it is legitimate that services like Spotify and Youtube continue to carry his music. This is a discussion that also exists in regards to people like R. Kelly, whose monstrous record of sexual abuse against women and children seems to be finally catching up to him.
In the eyes of many, allowing suspected sexual abusers (let alone convicted ones) to profit from their work through platforms like Spotify is tantamount to the company sanctioning their behavior. This is why, for example, the (allegedly feminist and pro LGBTQ) band Pwr Bttm was removed from all streaming services after serious allegations of sexual abuse were made against both members. Companies are obviously looking out for their own self-interest here, and are not motivated by any special sense of morality. After all, the music of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, David Bowie (Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie are all alleged to have had sex with the same underage “baby groupie”), Aerosmith (Steven Tyler is alleged to have impregnated a 16-year-old girl of whom he was the legal guardian, and then made her have an abortion), Jerry Lee Lewis (he married his 13-year-old cousin), Elvis Presley (alleged to have had a sexually predatory behavior towards very young girls), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Anthony Kiedis openly discussed in his autobiography how he knowingly had sex with a 14 year old girl), Marvin Gaye (routinely beat up his wife, and impregnated his 16-year-old niece), Dr. Dre (has been repeatedly accused of physically abusing women), Tupac Shakur (convicted of gang raping a woman) and Chuck Berry (convicted of having sex with a child) is still available for streaming.
Since it is evident that all of these companies are just one documentary away from either removing or hiding the music of alleged and convicted abusers, it is worth asking whether we are comfortable with private corporations having so much power. While it is true that, as private companies, Spotify and Google are not bound by the free speech principles that govern public entities, it is certainly worth asking whether we want private corporations to be the ones making the decisions as to what information we get to access. Let’s not forget that if the vast majority of people access music via streaming services, removing anything from them will, for all intents and purposes, make the content virtually unavailable for everyone, even those who want to access it. Also, particularly in the case of victims that are still trying to get some sort of redress in the courts, removing the music of the abusers might actually end up hurting them, as their court battle might result in a Pyrrhic victory, with their abuser having no source of revenue against which to enforce a favorable judgment.
As private entities, streaming platforms only need to answer to their stockholders, and do not need to explain their decision-making. They are free to decide for themselves who gets to be on their sites, and who gets to listen. They can also decide who will help them do the policing. In the past, for example, Spotify collaborated with the Southern Poverty Law Center (the same organization that labeled some former Muslims, and moderate Muslims as “anti Islamic extremists”) and the Anti Defamation League (which labels the BDS movement as anti-semitic) to help them decide which content should be labeled as “hateful” and removed from their service. We can imagine that they will proceed in a similar fashion when it comes to deciding whose music should be removed. In other words, private entities that are not bound by any due process rules will make decisions that will affect our ability to access to information, assisted by equally unaccountable organizations.
As someone who was sexually molested as a child, I have absolutely no love or respect for people like Michael Jackson or any of the other degenerates who have been accused of these heinous crimes. My position on this point, however, is that as a society we do better by having their content available, and choosing not to listen to it, than by empowering a third party to make that decision for us.