The #MeToo movement is often talked about as a cultural shift, but it is also—or at least seeks to be—a shift in business practices. That’s not only because workplaces, in a post-#MeToo world, should be safer for women. Corporations also have to weigh ethics, PR, and the bottom line as they decide whether to ditch expensive talent and stop profiting off content made by abusers. For the #MeToo ideal of creeps not prospering to become a reality will, queasily, require corporate America to act as a major moral—and by proxy, yes, cultural—arbiter.
The thorniness of this entanglement between money and mores explains the recent flailing by Spotify around small anti-abuse reforms. In May, the streaming service announced a “hate content and hateful conduct policy” that would, among other things, exclude some alleged predators from promotion on playlists. Such exclusion, a modest penalty for misconduct, would have been among the very few examples of famous musicians facing #MeToo-related consequences. Yet the recording business fought back for the status quo, and Spotify is now “moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct.”
What went wrong? Spotify’s explanation is unhelpful. “As some have pointed out, this language was vague and left too many elements open to interpretation,” the company’s statement rolling back the policy said. “We created concern that an allegation might affect artists’ chances of landing on a Spotify playlist and negatively impact their future.” Of course, that “concern” was originally a feature and not a bug: The policy implied that artists credibly said to act monstrously should have their future careers jeopardized.