On Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Elk issued a statement regarding the platform’s response to criticism of spreading COVID-19 misinformation via the content it hosts. That same day, podcaster Joe Rogan, who has ignited controversy over his discussions of COVID on his Spotify-distributed show, The Joe Rogan Experience, uploaded a video addressing the recent controversy.
In an open letter, Ek wrote that Spotify will add a “content advisory” to any podcast that includes a discussion of COVID-19. The advisory will direct listeners to the platform’s COVID-19 Hub, a resource with “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.” Ek observed, “To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform.”
Spotify made published its Platform Rules, now readily available to the public. The rules address the creation and dissemination of dangerous, deceptive, sensitive, and illegal content on the platform. The section that most directly refers to the Rogan controversy concerns content that “promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health.” This includes:
- asserting that AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax or not real
- encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases
- promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death
- encouraging people to purposely get infected with COVID-19 in order to build immunity to it (e.g. promoting or hosting “coronavirus parties”)
Per the Spotify Platform Rules, “We take these decisions seriously and keep context in mind when making them. Breaking the rules may result in the violative content being removed from Spotify. Repeated or egregious violations may result in accounts being suspended and/or terminated.”
“I trust our policies, the research and expertise that inform their development, and our aspiration to apply them in a way that allows for broad debate and discussion, within the lines,” Ek wrote to conclude his letter. “We take this seriously and will continue to partner with experts and invest heavily in our platform functionality and product capabilities for the benefit of creators and listeners alike. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are committed to learning, growing and evolving.”
That same day, Rogan broke his silence on the ongoing controversy, which has seen a pair of high-profile artists pull their music from Spotify in protest of Rogan. The embroilment began last week when Neil Young made a statement of intent to Spotify, stating in a since-deleted post that he would remove his music from the platform if The Joe Rogan Experience—the most popular podcast in the world, for which Spotify paid $100 million for the exclusive streaming rights—remained. The majority of his music was removed from the platform soon after.
Young referenced an open letter signed by over 270 scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators, who took aim at a pair of JRE episodes with guests Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone, which they claimed were the latest in a pattern of misinformation from Rogan.
In a nearly 10-minute video posted to Instagram, the actor-comedian spoke about the controversial episodes and called into question the term “misinformation” given the ever-changing state of medical knowledge in the COVID age.
“For instance, if eight months ago you said ‘if you get vaccinated you can still catch COVID and you can still spread COVID,’ you would be removed from social media. They would ban you from certain platforms,” Rogan said. “Now, that’s accepted as fact.”
Things like the inefficacy of cloth masks or the idea that COVID was produced in a lab, Rogan alleges, were taboo enough to spur banishment from online platforms just last year are now regularly stated on CNN and “on the cover of Newsweek.”
“All of those theories were openly discussed by the men on my podcast that have been accused of dangerous misinformation,” the podcast host said. “They have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is.”
“I do not know if they’re right, because I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with people,” Rogan continued. “Do I get things wrong? Absolutely, I get things wrong. But I try to correct them. Whenever I get something wrong I try to correct it because I’m interested in telling the truth and I’m interested in finding out what the truth is.”
While he did defend his previous episodes, Rogan also admitted that he can do more to assure the balance of information on his show. The podcaster stated numerous times in the clip that the focus on differing opinions is a focal point of the show. In that spirit, he proposed following his more controversial guests with appearances by conventional experts. He also promised to “Do my best to make sure that I’ve researched these topics, the controversial ones in particular, and have all the pertinent facts at hand before I discuss them.”
“My pledge to you is I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives so we can maybe find a better point of view,” Rogan said to close the video. “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.”
Rogan also made a point to address Young as well as Joni Mitchell, who removed her music from Spotify in solidarity with Neil. After misattributing Ricky Lee Jones‘s “Chuck E’s In Love” to Mitchell, Rogan told a familiar story to his listeners about quitting his security job at Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts—now The Xfinity Center—during a Neil Young show after being tasked with putting out fan-made bonfires on the lawn.
“I put zipped my hoodie up and I left,” Rogan recalled. “I drove home, and as I was driving home I was singing, ‘Keep on rocking in the free world!'”
Watch the full Joe Rogan video below.
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