Spotify forms advisory council to tackle content moderation

I hope everyone had a glorious weekend and a survivable Monday, despite looming economic catastrophe. I am trying not to think too hard about it, so good thing I had a newsletter to write!

Today, Spotify gets some advice on content moderation, TED launches a new subscription service, and Acast enables its podcasters to sell NFTs.

As Spotify grows its stable of creators, it taps experts to consult on content moderation

If there was one big takeaway from Spotify’s presentation for investors last week, it was that Spotify is going all-in on creator content. The “Spotify machine,” as CEO Daniel Ek deemed his company, will move into new verticals and bring millions of new creators onto the platform. That kind of scale may be good for the company’s bottom line — but the potential for misinformation and other dangerous content to sneak through is not. So, Spotify announced on Monday that it’s wrangled some top experts on speech and technology to advise the company.

The 18-member Spotify Safety Advisory Council is made up of academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, and advocates who focus on the evolving nature of speech online. The council is purely advisory and does not have any formal oversight of moderation decisions. The group will meet multiple times a year, focusing on issues that Spotify brings to its attention.

According to council member Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Virginia who focuses on privacy and safety, the move formalizes what Spotify has already been doing. Citron herself has consulted with Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of trust and safety, for the past few years.

Citron noted that, in her experience with Spotify, the company is focused on getting ahead of content meant to target or harass individuals. “They’re working hard at it,” she said. “They have safety tools that are built from the beginning, knowing there’s going to be an onslaught of content.”

While preventing and taking down harassing and violent content is relatively uncontroversial, Spotify also has to contend with the thornier issues of what counts as dangerous misinformation. How the company handles that problem could be crucial to its business, according to Z. John Zhang, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School who studied how business factors influence social media firms’ content moderation policies (and who is not involved with the council). On one hand, the proliferation of information that is seen as harmful could turn off (sometimes paying) customers. On the other hand, the platform needs to be ideologically inclusive or risk alienating audiences who feel their views are being targeted. “It is a balance that Spotify will need to keep,” Zhang said. “It is a very, very difficult job to do.”

Internal policies may not be the only tools at Spotify’s disposal, however. Raising the price to create a podcast or audiobook could ward off some ne’er-do-wells, Zhang said. “A good pricing mechanism could make the content moderation job easier, too,” he said.

So far, the barrier to entry is pretty low. Spotify is already well on its way to stocking its library with creator talk content, becoming less reliant on the clunky and expensive music business in the process. Thanks in large part to DIY podcast platform Anchor, which Spotify acquired in 2019, the streamer is now home to 4 million podcasts, a fourfold increase since 2020. Now, Spotify is moving into audiobooks, enabling creators to upload their own and allowing listeners to access at least some of them for free. That is a lot of new content to screen, and moderating audio content is notoriously difficult.

Spotify came under heavy criticism earlier this year for the hands-off approach it took to the medical misinformation featured on Joe Rogan’s podcast. But while tens of millions of ears are on Rogan, it is easier for less popular podcasts to fly under the radar. Spotify spokesperson Taylor Griffin said the company “leverages a combination of human review and technical mechanisms to help ensure content is compliant on platform.”

There is no easy answer about how to approach moderation, said Citron. Systems that rely mainly on users reporting harmful content let a lot fall through the cracks, while AI can be a “blunt tool” that misses contextual clues. “My sense is they’re going to try to be really creative about ways to ensure the levels of trust and prevent harm,” she said.

EXCLUSIVE: TED launches new podcast subscription on Apple Podcasts

TED is launching a subscription service for its popular podcasts, called TED Audio Collective Plus. Available exclusively on Apple Podcasts, the subscription will give listeners early access to some shows and ad-free streams of others.

Body Stuff with Dr. Jen Gunter (which is currently TED’s top-ranked show on Apple Podcasts), The TED Interview, and Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala will be made available to subscribers a week early without ads. A slew of other top shows (but not all) will be ad-free through Audio Collective Plus, including TED Talks Daily, TED Business, and How To Be a Better Human (which is the top TED show on Spotify).

At $4.99 per month and $49.99 per year, the pricing for Audio Collective Plus is basically identical to TED’s membership program. But while TED membership includes ad-free listening to TED Talks Daily, it’s more focused on events and community than podcasts. As podcasts become a bigger business for TED (which claims to get 1.65 million downloads across its shows), Audio Collective Plus will give the company a chance to bring in paying customers beyond its traditional base.

New Acast partnership will allow podcasters to sell merch, NFTs

Acast announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Spring, a service that helps content creators make their own online stores. The new partnership will enable Acast’s podcasters to sell traditional merchandise like T-shirts and tote bags (the audio industry simply loves a tote bag) or even branch out into the riskier world of NFTs.

Acast has launched a pilot program with 11 of its shows, including Do Go On and Goes Without Saying. It seems that most stores have opted for the traditional merch route, which seems wise considering how the NFT market is faring.

That’s all for today! Have a normal week.

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