Update on Spotify’s compliance with Russian censorship

The background for this story can be found here: “Spotify made a cowardly choice: to submit to the Kremlin, rather than support Russian dissenters“.
It is an English translation of an article I wrote, published yesterday (March 4) in the major Swedish newspaper Expressen.

The morning after, Spotify reacted to my criticism by publishing a statement in Swedish, claiming to “correct certain errors that have circulated in Swedish media”.

What errors? Mainly, that Spotify’s Moscow office in fact opened already in 2020, and not in 2022. That may certainly be true, but is beside the point. Because what Russian media reported recently was that “Spotify opened a representative office in Russia to comply with Moscow’s new rules”. In other words the office seems to very recently have acquired the formal status of a representative office, as Spotify registered itself at Russia’s censorship agency, Roskomnadzor. That is the point: Spotify actively taking measures to comply with censorship.

Let me now translate the main part of Spotify’s response:

We also have a responsibility to keep our service available in the region for as long as possible, as access to information is of utmost importance. We do not believe, unlike certain people, that it would have been better if we never were in Russia, or that we should discontinue our activities immediately. We have many listeners in Russia and we maintain that it is important that our service can stay in the region so that information can keep flowing. Like other digital platforms, ruled by the same laws as Spotify, we believe that access to fact-based information is more important than ever. That is why we have taken measures against Russian state propaganda, even though some claims the opposite. This Tuesday we also launched a news and information hub that guides users to reliable news sources.

Yeah, information is important. Got it. The more information, the better. So long that the information is fact-based. Great. Let it flow. Let’s even create an “information hub” about the war.

But for whom? That’s where Spotify’s hypocrisy becomes painfully clear.

It’s not entirely clear what is meant by “information hub”, but indeed, Spotify users in the EU have in recent days been recommended news podcasts providing information of the war in Ukraine. Someone at the company put some time to collect a list of reliable news. But for whom?

Spotify certainly does not present these news for users in Russia. It would have been an easy thing for Spotify to guide its Russian users towards reliable news about the war. But Spotify did not do it. Because Russian authorities do not want any talk about the war, and Spotify complies with the censorship. Som much for all talk about how “information can keep flowing”.

Spotify’s Russian users will not ser nor hear a word about the war. Not even about peace. As I wrote before, at a very minimum Spotify could have presented peace-themed playlists for all its users in Russia. But no, it preferred not to acknowledge that anything special is happening at all in Russia.

So what does Spotify communicate to its Russian users? Let’s check the official Instagram account @SpotifyRussia: a happy playlist called “70’s party” together with some tips about retro fashion.


In other words, users in EU and in Russia are treated very differently. Spotify does not mention the war in Russia, and certainly does not guide its users towards reliable news.

In my article, I expressed some doubt that there was much Russian state propaganda in Spotify’s podcast catalogue to begin with. However, I have now found one example of a radio show, produced by Sputnik for an American audience, complaining that it was thrown out of Spotify.

But we also should point out that Spotify’s efforts to remove Russian state propaganda do not apply to its Russian service. This is made quite clear in the previous statement, where Spotify stated:

Earlier in the week we took yet another step when we removed all content from RT and Sputnik from Spotify in EU and in other markets.

It was not removed from Spotify. It was removed from some markets. We do not know exactly which, and Spotify does not want to tell us. But we can be quite sure that Russian state propaganda is still made available by Spotify in Russia – while reliable news are not available there. Everything in accordance with the wishes of the Russian authorities, to which Spotify has willingly submitted.

The main point of this story is not if there is or has been Russian propaganda at Spotify. The point is that Spotify does not allow its Russian users to access reliable news about Russia’s war – even though it boasts about doing this for its Western users.

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