For the past week, the Swedish music streaming service Spotify has been in turmoil. Several artists have left the platform, which has just exceeded 400 million active users worldwide. Spotify is accused of accepting controversial remarks in the podcasts of its platform, in particular anti-vaccines. We explain the origin of the controversy.
Antivax comments on the platform
It is Spotify’s most listened to podcast that is at the origin of the controversy: “Joe Rogan experience”. In this show, Joe Rogan, a 54-year-old American host and former taekwondo champion, receives guests for two to three hours to discuss various topics. In recent weeks, he has notably welcomed figures from the anti-vaccine movement and is thus accused of having discouraged vaccination among young people and encouraged the use of controversial treatments, such as ivermectin.
“Spotify spreads false information about vaccines, potentially causing the death of those who believe the misinformation it spreads,” Canadian singer Neil Young first accused on January 24. He requests that his catalog be removed from the platform, which was done two days later. Before being imitated by other artists: Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren, or even India Arie who evokes controversial remarks by Joe Rogan on the “racial question”. Doctors and scientists have also sent an open letter to Spotify demanding a moderation policy.
“We have detailed content policies in place and have removed over 20,000 Covid-related podcast episodes since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but we hope to be able to welcome him back soon.
But faced with the evolution of the controversy, the boss of Spotify, Daniel Ek, told his employees that “appropriate actions” would be taken. However, he defended the maintenance of Joe Rogan’s show, “crucial” for the platform. “We do not validate his guests in advance and have his content when he publishes it (…) If this content violates our rules, we implement the appropriate actions”, he explained, indicating that a number of Joe Rogan Experience episodes were not available on Spotify for this reason.
In a press release on Sunday, Spotify announced the establishment of links guiding to factual and scientifically sourced information on the pandemic on all podcasts evoking the Covid-19. Spotify also released its rules of use and said it’s testing ways to further signal to podcast creators “what’s acceptable.”
It’s my fault Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan posted a video on Instagram where he claims to “love Neil Young”. “I’m just looking to chat with people who have different opinions. Talking to people who all have the same perspective doesn’t interest me,” he defended himself. He also acknowledged that his show had gotten “out of control” and pledged to “balance controversial views”.
What consequences for Spotify?
After the Joe Rogan case, Spotify lost subscribers. “Spotify currently no longer allows users to cancel their subscription. Their customer service system is completely overwhelmed. People asking to cancel their subscription are told that it is impossible. No doubt Spotify will do the rollbacks later, when the system is less strained,” tweeted entrepreneur William Legate.