Joe Roganâ€™s controversial Covid-19 misinformation have cost Spotify the catalogs of some big name artists. But will these artistsâ€™ boycotts actually make a difference?
Joe Rogan, the UFC commentator turned podcaster, has come under scrutiny throughout the Covid-19 pandemic for spreading misinformationÂ on the virus and the vaccine. Spotify reported â€œThe Joe Rogan Experienceâ€Â as the most listened to podcastÂ on the platform globally in 2021. Rogan sparked major controversy in December when he releasedÂ a three-hour podcast episodeÂ withÂ Dr. Robert Malone, a physician who wrongly suggested in June that the vaccine made Covid-19 infections worse. Critics call his spread of misinformation dangerous for a multitude of reasons: his average listener is the persuadable age of 24, he has a sizeable cult of personality, and his enormous reach gives him unfettered access to a large audience.
Following the release of this episode, hundreds of public health professionals wrote an open letter to Spotify urging the company to implement a misinformation policy. On January 24th, musician Neil Young requested that Spotify remove his music in protest of the platformâ€™s support of Rogan. Youngâ€™s letter led to other musicians and creators to take similar action: Joni Mitchell pulledÂ all but four albumsÂ from the streaming service, and India. Arie also announced that she plans on pulling her music as well, adding Roganâ€™s usage of racially insensitive language and the way Spotify pays artists to her reasons for leaving in anÂ Instagram post.
This is not the first time that artists have pulled their music from Spotify in protest. In November 2014,Â Taylor Swiftremoved all of her music for reasons similar to India. Arieâ€™s concerns about Spotifyâ€™s payment policies.Â Adele withheld herÂ albums “21” and “25” at their times of release from the service in protest of their free streaming model and their model to pay artists based onÂ StreamShare, not per each individual stream. However, these boycotts were temporary. Swiftâ€™s entire discographyÂ became available againÂ in June 2017, and users could listen to “25” in 2016, seven months after its initial release.
The Joe Rogan situation differs from disagreements over royalties and payouts because it involves free speech and a multi-million dollar deal. In 2020, Rogan signed a deal with Spotify, making the service the only way anyone could listen to â€œThe Joe Rogan Experience”. TheÂ Wall Street Journal reportedÂ the multi-year licensing deal as being worth more than $100 million. A recentÂ New York Times reportÂ claims the deal may be worth double that figure.Â In aÂ message to employees, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, after condemning Roganâ€™s words, wrote, â€œI want to make one point very clear â€” I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope”.
Yet the platform has not always left content totally up to creators. In 2017, the serviceÂ removed racist musicÂ in response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Â In May 2018, they enacted aÂ Hate Content and Hateful Conduct policyÂ butÂ redacted it in JuneÂ of the same year due to vagueness and an apparent lack of input from the platformâ€™s team and partners. Music by R. Kelly and XXXTentacion were the only ones immediately affected by the policy, due to the formerâ€™s allegations of sexual abuse and the latter facing charges of aggravated battery.Â Now, users can listen to their hits like â€œIgnition Remixâ€ and â€œSAD!,â€ respectively, but Spotify will not make any effort to actively promote them.Â In aÂ statement given to TIME magazineÂ after pulling the policy, Spotify said â€œWe donâ€™t censor content because of an artistâ€™s or creatorâ€™s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions â€“ what we choose to program â€“ to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator”.
Besides receiving scrutiny from 300 medical professionals, Young, Mitchell, India.Arie, Spotify has also been criticized by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and theÂ White House. The former also have a multi-million dollar podcast deal with the service and have expressed concerns over the spread of Covid-19 misinformation. Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, said, â€œour hope is that all major tech platforms, and all major news sources for that matter, be responsible and be vigilant to ensure the American people have access to accurate information on something as significant as Covid-19….that certainly includes Spotify,â€ during her daily press briefing.
Other media outlets have chimed in on Dr. Maloneâ€™s claims. After Roganâ€™s episode with Dr. Malone, the New York TimesÂ fact-checkedÂ eight of their claims. Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for disobeying the serviceâ€™s Covid-19 misinformation. For Spotifyâ€™s part, Ek revealed that the streaming service will addÂ content advisoriesÂ at the beginning of podcast episodes that discuss the virus, but the CEO failed to mention Rogan or Young in the statement. 70 episodes of Roganâ€™s podcast that included racially insensitive language wereÂ quietly removed from SpotifyÂ sometime on February 4. The next day, Rogan posted anÂ apology videoÂ to his Instagram apologizing for his usage of the n-word in his older podcast episodes.Â Despite these actions, every other episode is available, reaching an estimatedÂ 11 million listeners per episode. Spotify is struggling to uphold the standards and policies of typical media sites because of how important it is to them to keep Rogan; he is the star of their most popular and profitable podcast.
Further articles written in collaboration with the Boston Political Review can be found on ourÂ website.