Spotify’s decision to bring back political ads ahead of the 2022 election cycle without first establishing a public ad library – as Google and Meta have done – is a reckless mistake that opens the door for right-wing actors to spread dangerous misinformation across the platform.
On May 23, Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky reported that Spotify is “bringing back political ads for candidates, political parties, PACs and elected officials in the U.S.” Spotify had suspended political ads in early 2020, explaining in a statement at the time, “At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content.”
Two years later, Spotify is boasting a revamped political ad system that the platform says can “responsibly validate and review” ad content — while using “AI-driven ‘contextual targeting’ which allows advertisers to place ads in podcasts when they are discussing issues relevant to their target audiences,” as Lapowsky explained it. Spotify’s claims of an improved ad system ring hollow given that people outside of the company will not be able to systematically review political ads.
In other words, Spotify has brought back the revenue from political ads while shielding itself from external transparency or accountability. This is particularly concerning given Spotify’s repeated failure to actually enforce its platform rules. Moreover, Spotify’s decision to bring back political ads comes as right-wing media and conservatives are using political ads to spread lies about immigrants and the 2020 election ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Without a public ad library, Spotify’s new political ad moderation system lacks transparency and accountability
In deciding not to establish a public ad library, Spotify is falling behind other technology platforms that allow political ads to run on their sites and is in turn providing conservative candidates, elected officials, and PACs an opportunity to pay to promote lies to Spotify users. Though Spotify spokesperson Erin Styles indicated that the company may create a political ad library at a later date, relaunching political ads without an ad archive is an irresponsible move that places one company's profits over the integrity of our nation’s political system.
Unlike Spotify, Google and Meta have each established ad libraries where the public can look through political ads and identify ad copy that violates the platforms’ content guidelines. Via Facebook's ad library, Media Matters has found numerous instances of parent company Meta profiting off ads that spread right-wing misinformation, including lies about the pandemic, election integrity, trans people, and the “great replacement” theory.
However, establishing an ad library is not sufficient on its own – platforms must properly classify political ads, ensure their political ad libraries are comprehensive, and enforce their content rules. For instance, Facebook hasn't been consistent in all of its policies, allowing The Daily Wire to flout a temporary ban on political ads following the 2020 presidential election. During this period, The Daily Wire ran political ads — which Facebook defines as those about social issues, elections, or politics — that earned millions of impressions and did not include Facebook's “required” disclaimer stating the name of the entity paying for the ads. Facebook later removed some of them.
Spotify’s record of failing to adequately enforce its own content rules demonstrates the need for a public ad library
Spotify’s advertising policies prohibit content that violates its user guidelines or platform rules. The platform, however, has a well-documented record of failing to adequately enforce its platform rules. Spotify only published its content rules – which it claims have secretly been in place for years – after facing widespread backlash for profiting off Joe Rogan’s dangerous misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Media Matters has reported, Spotify has repeatedly failed to moderate dangerous misinformation from The Joe Rogan Experience, the most popular podcast on the platform. For example, Spotify’s platform rules explicitly prohibit “dehumanizing statements” about protected groups, yet episodes remain on the platform in which Rogan repeatedly used an anti-trans slur and suggested that accepting trans people is a sign of “civilizations collapsing.” Rogan has even repeatedly bragged that Spotify has not taken any action against his podcast, including asserting that “Spotify has never said a goddamn thing to me.”
Spotify’s failure to enforce its content rules extends beyond The Joe Rogan Experience. Multiple figures who have supported the QAnon conspiracy theory have podcasts on Spotify, despite the platform’s previous crackdown on QAnon content. Spotify also hosts a network of COVID-19 misinformers who have spread a range of medical misinformation, including lying that “the antibodies produced by these [COVID-19] vaccines are pathogenic – they’re lethal.”