Artists, Users Withdraw From Spotify Over Joe Rogan Controversy: A Breakdown

Spotify said that it would start guiding listeners to a dedicated hub that will provide balanced information.

Tech News
4 min read
Edited By :Tejas Harad

Spotify is facing an ever growing backlash from artists and subscribers demanding that star podcaster Joe Rogan be removed from the platform for contributing to the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artists, including icons Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, have pulled their music from the platform, while several users rushed to cancel their subscriptions, reportedly leading to a temporary shutdown of live customer support.

In response, Spotify announced on Sunday that it would start guiding listeners of podcasts discussing the pandemic to a dedicated hub that will provide accurate information.

Spotify has lost more than $2 billion in market value since the controversy erupted, Variety reported. Rogan has also issued an apology.

Here's the controversy broken down:


What's Happening With Spotify?

After a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators wrote an open letter to Spotify to take action against misinformation, rock musician Neil Young posted a now-deleted letter on his website stating that he will be pulling his music from the platform.

"I am doing this because Spotify is spreading false information about vaccines, potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation... They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
Neil Young

“Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable and easy to swing to the wrong side of the truth,” he said in another letter.

On Wednesday, Spotify sided with Joe Rogan and began the process of pulling Young's music, saying that they regret his decision “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Days later, other artists began following Young's lead. Eight-time Grammy-winner Joni Mitchell also announced that she was pulling her 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.”
Joni Mitchell

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are slated to host and produce podcasts on the platform, also expressed their concerns to Spotify over the spread of misinformation.

Spotify's refusal to remove Rogan, and the removal of Young's music led to a deluge of customer complaints and cancelled subscriptions, which impacted its live customer support service. Users were instead directed to a chatbot.

A message temporarily appeared on the support page, which reportedly read: "We're currently getting a lot of contacts so may be slow to respond."


What Has Joe Rogan Been up to?

Joe Rogan insists he is not anti-vax. However, on separate occasions, he has discouraged vaccines in young people and children, said that lockdowns will make things worse, and incorrectly claimed that mRNA vaccines are gene therapy.

In June last year, he dedicated an episode to promoting Ivermectin, popularly used as a deworming drug, as a prophylactic and therapeutic for COVID-19. Rogan later claimed that Ivermectin “essentially cured COVID” in Uttar Pradesh.

The Quint debunks myths around ivermectin here.

He has also featured guests who peddle misinformation about the pandemic. In his words, "They (his guests) have an opinion that's different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is."

Recently, he interviewed Dr Robert Malone, a virologist who claimed that Americans were "hypnotised" into following COVID-19 measures because of mass formation psychosis.

Malone, who was suspended from Twitter for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, also claimed that hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely diagnose COVID-19 deaths.

According to the open letter, Malone’s interview has reached "many tens of millions of listeners vulnerable to predatory medical misinformation. Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications."


Why Is Spotify Keeping Rogan's Podcast?

Let's begin with Spotify's official stance.

"We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users." CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a public letter on Sunday, in which Rogan wasn't specifically mentioned.

"It is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them," he added.

However, it is worth noting that Joe Rogan's podcast is very valuable to Spotify. The platform is on a quest to dominate the podcast space where it can maximise profits, according to The Washington Post.

Joe Rogan has a $100 million multi-year exclusive deal with Spotify. The Joe Rogan Experience is the most popular podcast in the world, attracting an estimated 11 million listeners per episode.

Spotify says that it is working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19 which will direct listeners to a hub where accurate information by authorities and news sources will be available.

It has also now released a set of platform rules which, among other things, bar content "that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health."

The decision to not remove the podcast has been hailed by free speech advocates who argue that discussion and debate should not be censored.


What Does Rogan Have To Say?

In a video posted on Instagram, Rogan said that it was a “strange responsibility” to have so many viewers and listeners and that he will do his best to “balance things out” going forward.

Rogan agreed with Spotify's decision to add disclaimers in front of podcasts dealing with the pandemic. "I think that's very important," he said.

“I do not know if they are right. I am not a doctor or a scientist. I am just a person who sits down with people and has conversations with them. Do I get things wrong? Absolutely! But I try to correct them whenever I get something wrong,” he explained.

"If there's anything that I've done that I could do better is have more experts with differing opinions, right after I have the controversial ones."
Joe Rogan on Instagram

Referring to his controversial guests, who are under fire for making unsubstantiated claims, he said he wanted to talk to them as they had opinions that “differ from the mainstream narrative.”

“I don’t want to just show the contrary opinion to what the narrative is. I want to show all kinds of opinions so we can all figure out what’s going on and not just about Covid, about everything, about health, about fitness, wellness, the state of the world itself,” he said.

(With inputs from The Washington Post.)

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Edited By :Tejas Harad
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