December 4, 2022

On Google Podcasts, a Buffet of Hate

When Apple bans a podcast, such as Mr. Jones’s, it removes the RSS feed from its directory. Google Podcasts says it’s unwilling to take that step except in a narrow set of cases.

The services’s content policy compares its function to Google Search’s aggregation of links. Unless a podcast violates the rules that apply to links appearing in Google Search, most of which are based on legal restrictions, it will remain on Google Podcasts. Google does draw distinctions when it comes to which podcasts it will promote, and thus make easier to find. It says it does not recommend content that is “inappropriate, insensitive, or offensive in nature,” and goes on to cite specific areas of concern, including content that is harassing, hateful, deceptive or dangerous.

Though the company likens its podcast platform to search, Google Podcast’s own product description notes significant differences, including the ability to manipulate playback speed, create playlists and download and store content.

But there is at least one connection between Google Podcasts and Google Search. In 2019, Google began integrating podcasts into search results using its own platform, making it possible to play content directly from the results page. All podcasts, including those featuring hate speech, currently benefit from this feature under Google’s policy.

In the early days, content moderation in podcasting was virtually nonexistent. Apple, the industry’s largest and most influential player, which added support for podcasts to iTunes in 2005, at first paid little attention to the nascent ecosystem, opting to serve largely as a delivery vehicle.

The company’s benign neglect was a boon for many creators. Popular comedians (Adam Carolla, Marc Maron) and public radio exiles (Kaitlin Prest, “The Heart”; Nick van der Kolk, “Love + Radio”) took advantage of the medium’s low barrier to entry to find audiences. Many prized freedom of expression, unburdened by the Federal Communications Commission that regulates radio and television broadcasters.

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