With social media, the court of public opinion has grown in power and prestige. And movements like the #MeToo campaign have gained speed and effectiveness in holding people accountable for their deplorable actions. Accusations that garner attention via social media sometimes lead to criminal charges, as Harvey Weinstein can attest to.
But what happens when there seem to be credible accusations and a social outcry, but no criminal charges have been filed, or charges don’t stick? R. Kelly seems to be experiencing that scenario as Spotify has dumped him from their playlists amid many claims of sexual abuse.
Decades of Sexual Abuse Allegations
Kelly has been accused of sexually abusing minors for decades. There have been civil lawsuits and an indictment, but he’s never been convicted of a crime. There are even videos and evidence that Kelly possessed child pornography. He settled many civil lawsuits out of court, including one by a woman who claimed she was underage when Kelly impregnated her and forced her to get an abortion.
Throughout the years of accusations, charges, an indictment, and settlements, Kelly continued to perform at large venues and received many awards for hits like “I Believe I Can Fly.” But then came the momentum of the #MeToo movement and a Buzzfeed article by Jim DeRogatis detailing allegations that Kelly was living with a number of young women and limiting their contact with their families, among other coercive behavior. With revitalized outrage, a new hashtag was born: #MuteRKelly.
Public outcry against Kelly includes a statement from women of color within the Time’s Up campaign and support from numerous personalities like actress Lupita Nyong’o and singer John Legend. Ten of Kelly’s concerts have been canceled in the last year, and several people have left his payroll. Last week, Spotify, the biggest streaming subscription service, announced they, too, would be dumping him from their playlists (although they are not removing his music completely).
As a statement from the company read, “When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.”
Many are happy about the success of the grassroots movement against Kelly, although it does raise some questions. What amount of evidence does it take to convict someone in the court of public opinion? Will Spotify dump other musicians with similar credible accusations against them?