Since January 24, several artists, such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, have been calling for their music to be removed from Spotify. They are boycotting the platform because of Joe Rogan’s controversial podcast. Titled the “Joe Rogan Experience Podcast”, he has repeatedly spread false information about Covid-19 and the vaccine on his show.
In 2020, the platform signed a contract with Joe Rogan, where they allegedly paid more than $100 million in this deal. Since then, the podcast has been highly controversial, and things started to escalate in December 2021. Rogan invited Dr. Robert Malone, a physician and biochemist who has been banned from speaking on platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn, after repeatedly spreading misinformation about Covid-19. On the podcast, he explained that people had been “hypnotized” into believing certain things about COVID. He made claims that the vaccine can alter your genes, ivermectin can cure Covid, and even discouraged young people to get vaccinated because the health risks from the vaccine are greater than from Covid. As a result, 270 doctors and scientists wrote an open letter to Spotify, where they called out the podcast for spreading “false and societally harmful assertions.” They also highlighted that Rogan has an estimated 11 million listeners per episode.
It is after reading this open-letter that Young decided to write one of his own and to remove his songs from Spotify. He said, “I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both”. Two days later, the platform accepted and removed his music. He was not the only one to feel so strongly about the issue. Other artists such as Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren joined him. Additionally, some artists also asked their record labels to remove their songs from the platform: David Crosby, India Arie, Graham Nash, as well as Stephen Stills.
Podcast hosts are also reacting. Brené Brown, who is the host of the podcasts “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead,” explained that, as of this week, she will take a break from releasing new episodes. On January 31, another popular podcast called “Science Vs.,” released a statement saying that they would stop releasing episodes. The only episodes they would continue publishing will be meant to correct the misinformation spread on podcasts like Rogan’s. Other hosts, including Mary L. Trump, Scott Galloway, and Roxane Gray, took it one step further by saying that they were removing their shows.
In response, Spotify put into place a disclaimer on Rogan’s podcast, which was praised by Biden’s administration. Secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House “hoped other platforms would follow suit.” Meanwhile, Rogan promised to get more hosts with diverse opinions. He responded to Neil Young by saying that he was one of his fans and he was very sorry that the musician felt this way about The Joe Rogan Experience.
This controversy is another example of how social media is used as a platform to spread misinformation. However, according to Marianna Spring (a specialist in disinformation and a social media reporter), there is an increasing pressure on social media sites to deal with fake news. Other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had already adopted the disclaimer months ago. Spotify has only put the measure into place now, as it is more difficult for them to analyze what is said in audios than in messages. Moreover, they are different from other platforms, as they are directly paying podcast hosts like Rogan. This Thursday, Daniel Ek (Spotifiy’s CEO) spoke about the controversy and explained that, from now on, they will be “supporting greater expression while balancing it with the safety of our users.”