Spotify backlash: Why Joe Rogan’s podcast spurred musicians to pull their music – CNET

Joe Rogan enjoying a cigar while talking about COVID-19 on his podcast

Joe Rogan has been accused of promoting misinformation on his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.

The Joe Rogan Experience

Spotify has found itself at the center of an uproar over COVID-19 misinformation

Last week, rocker Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify, the world’s largest streaming music service by subscribers, over objections to false claims about COVID-19 vaccines on Rogan’s popular podcast. The comedian’s podcast, available exclusively on Spotify through a $100 million deal, has hosted multiple misinformation influencers. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective against severe disease, hospitalization and death.

A handful of musicians – including folk icon Joni Mitchell – have joined Young, saying they’ll pull their music from Spotify. So far, however, today’s chart-topping artists haven’t weighed in on the protest

On Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said the company plans on being more transparent about its rules on misinformation but won’t be a “content censor.” Rogan also responded to the controversy, saying he plans to do better.

The musicians’ boycott comes as Spotify on Wednesday is set to report results for the end of 2021.

Here’s what you need to know about the issues and what Spotify plans on changing. 

How did this Spotify boycott start?

Neil Young started the protest when he penned a letter saying Spotify could have either his music or Joe Rogan, but not both. 

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” Young wrote in the letter to his manager and record label, which was reported by Rolling Stone on Jan 24. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them.”

Young cited an open letter signed initially by more than 250 medical professionals, professors and researchers who called on Spotify to address the COVID misinformation on its platform, pointing specifically to Rogan’s podcast. Since the letter’s publication on Jan. 12, more than 1,000 more professionals have signed the letter. 

Young’s music was removed from the streaming service on Jan. 27. 

On Saturday, Joni Mitchell followed Young, saying via a letter on her website that she’ll remove her music from Spotify. 

Other artists joining Young and Mitchell include:  

Some Spotify users also joined the protest by canceling their subscriptions to the service after Young pulled his music, and the hashtag #DeleteSpotify was trending on social media on Jan. 28. Some tweeted that they weren’t able to message a live customer service agent when trying to cancel their service.

A person familiar with the matter said Spotify’s customer support was working as usual, with live agents available to respond. CNET’s checks on the support page got quick responses to questions about canceling both from its bot and from a human agent. The bot responded immediately, and the wait to chat with a human was less than five minutes.

How has Spotify responded? 

Following the musicians’ protest, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek responded in a blog post on Jan. 30, saying his company doesn’t want to be a “content censor” but will make sure that its rules are easy to find and that there are consequences for spreading misinformation. He acknowledged that Spotify hasn’t been transparent about them, which led to questions about their application to serious issues including COVID-19.

“Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time,” Ek said.

Included in the post was a link to Spotify’s platform rules detailing what content isn’t allowed on the service. Regarding COVID misinformation, the rules specifically prohibit saying that COVID-19 isn’t real, encouraging the consumption of bleach to cure diseases, saying vaccines lead to death and suggesting people get infected in order to build immunity. 

Ek also said the company is working on a content advisory for any podcast episode that talks about COVID. The advisory will guide listeners to the service’s COVID-19 hub.

The White House chimed in on Spotify’s move to add warnings to podcast episodes. In a press briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if tech companies should go further than these disclaimers. 

“Our 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,” Psaki said. “So this disclaimer, it’s a positive step, but we want every platform to continue doing more to call out misinformation and disinformation while also uplifting accurate information.” 

Psaki also referred to Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s warning from last July about the dangers of misinformation calling, in which he called it an “urgent threat.”

What does Rogan have to say? 

Rogan took to Instagram on Jan. 30 to talk about the criticism of him and his show. In the video, he defended his choice to bring on guests like Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious-disease specialist who was banned from Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Malone, a vocal opponent of the vaccines, appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience on Dec. 31 and compared the current state of the pandemic to Nazi Germany. He then suggested that people taking precautions against COVID-19 were suffering from so-called “mass formation psychosis,” a medical-sounding phrase that’s been discredited by psychology experts. 

Public health agencies have made it clear that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at reducing the impact of the coronavirus, and that other public health measures like masking and social distancing have helped slow the spread COVID-19. The dangers of the illness are clear: To date, there have been more than 381 million cases of COVID-19 around the world and more than 5.6 million deaths, according to the coronavirus resource center at the Johns Hopkins University.

Rogan stated he was happy for Spotify to add disclaimers to podcasts on what he called “controversial” topics. He added that if he could do anything differently, it would be to get experts with differing opinions on directly after “controversial ones.” 

At the end of his video, Rogan said he had no hard feelings toward Young and Mitchell. 

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