Spotify under fire following Joe Rogan controversy and Neil Young protest

Spotify has one again been the source of much controversy following an episode of Joe Rogan’s Spotify exclusive podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, which is being blamed for spreading misinformation on Covid-19. The episode in question featured guests Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone, who many have claimed made multiple unsubstantiated claims concerning the coronavirus and Covid-19 during their conversation with Rogan. This included claims such as the touting of Ivermectin as suitable treatment for Covid-19 and suggesting that vaccinations were “unnecessary” for younger people. 

The backlash aimed at both Rogan and Spotify has been significant. As reported by Pitchfork, an open letter drafted by doctors and scientists to the global scientific community debunked the claims made on Rogan’s podcast, and called on Spotify to take responsibility for allowing the content to be streamed on their platform. Multiple artists have pulled their content from the platform, refusing to share a space with Rogan’s podcast or be associated with him. Rock icon Neil Young prompted the ensuing boycott, issuing another open letter on the situation but this time addressed to Spotify specifically. 

In his letter, Young called on Spotify to choose between him and Rogan, stating that the platform could either “have Rogan or Young. Not both.” Spotify chose to stick with Rogan, removing Young’s entire catalogue from the platform. This prompted other music artists to remove their content from Spotify in solidarity with Young, including guitarist Nils Lofgren and Joni Mitchell. In a statement, Mitchell said: “I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify. Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

Spotify’s support of Rogan over Young is unsurprising. As outlined by The Atlantic, since 2019 the platform has been pivoting its focus toward audio content such as podcasts and audiobooks. This is a more profitable angle when compared to music streaming and its related royalties. As part of this shift, Spotify paid out million dollar deals to creators for exclusive content. Rogan is one such creator. Prince Harry and Megan Markle are another example, and while they’ve chosen to keep their content available on Spotify they have made their point of view clear. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have reportedly reached out to Spotify directly to express their concerns over the misinformation spread via the platform, stating: “We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does.” 

But it’s not just music artists who are taking a stand in support of Young and in boycott of Spotify. Tom Scharpling pulled his long running The Best Show radio programme from the platform, while popular motivational speaker, lecturer and Spotify exclusive podcast creator Brené Brown announced she will not be making any more podcasts “until further notice.” The loss of podcast content, especially those exclusive to Spotify, has proven to be a big blow to the company. Since Spotify made the choice to support Rogan’s podcast over Young’s music, it is reported that the company has lost over $2 billion in market value following the ensuing boycott and protest. 

Yesterday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek released a statement addressing the controversy, outlining plans that Spotify have put into place to stop the spread of harmful misinformation. The plan in question centres on adding advisory tags to podcast shows discussing topics such as Covid-19, and suggests that Spotify will ban or remove any content which goes against the platform’s rules. These rules have also been made public. According to these guidelines, Spotify does not allow “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health” and anyone in violation of this will have their content removed, while repeat offenders will be banned. Elaborating on the advisory tags, Ek stated: 

“This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub, a resource that provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources. This new effort to combat misinformation will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days. To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform.”

Last year, Spotify made headlines in the music industry after many called into question the streaming platform’s royalties model. The ongoing discussion around royalties and the percentage paid out to artists has seen many pull their content from the platform. This includes Four Tet as a part of an ongoing dispute with his former label Domino Records, and most recently German producer Skee Mask and German record label Ilian Tape