25 February 2019
Author: Alex Brammer
In the case of Spotify’s mute button, the ability to hide an artist still exists – it’s just that the responsibility is placed solely in the hands of users. This seems like a reasonable idea – Spotify now has 96m paying subscribers and achieving consensus on where to draw the line between an artist’s actions and their art is clearly a challenge for the company. For instance, while many people would readily block R Kelly based on these allegations, would they do the same for John Lennon? According to various sources, Lennon admitted to domestic abuse. Do Azealia Banks’s racist and homophobic Twitter outbursts warrant a blanket muting? Ultimately, the option to mute will vary from individual to individual, but it does allow users the chance to forge their own morality-driven musical platform.
But what of the potential negatives surrounding this update? There is nothing stopping users from simply blocking artists whose music they don’t like, or – worryingly – because of cultural hostilities. Spotify and platforms such as YouTube and Instagram are designed to promote discovery, so if people are given the power to mute content, their media experience could become an insular, hyper-personalised echo chamber. The dangers of such hyper-personalisation on Netflix, for example, was something we explored on LS:N Global last year.
It will be fascinating to see if other content aggregators follow in the coming months. If Netflix had an option to mute films produced by Harvey Weinstein, would users take this up and block films like Pulp Fiction? Would that be fair on Uma Thurman and the rest of the cast and crew? Is a mute button even necessary at all? Could users simply skip content that they find offensive?
Interestingly, Netflix recently added a category solely dedicated to films directed by women, suggesting that the solution for aggregators and brands may lie as much in highlighting progressive content as it does in shutting out the negative.
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