Spotify’s CEO responded Sunday to mounting complaints from musicians and listeners about the role of Joe Rogan, the streaming service’s star podcaster, in spreading what has been widely criticized as misinformation about the coronavirus. Last week, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell — two musical icons whose cultural influence far exceeds their streaming songs — removed their music from Spotify to protest the platform’s support of Rogan.
“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” wrote CEO Daniel Ek, who is also a founding member of Spotify. in a public letter. “In that role, it’s important to me that we don’t take on the position of content censor while also making sure there are rules and consequences for those who break them.”
Ek made no specific mention of Rogan, who has filed complaints for his interviews with vaccine skeptics. This month, a group of more than 200 professors and public health officials called on Spotify to address the misinformation about Covid-19 on its platform, pointing to a recent episode of Rogan’s podcast with Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious disease expert, that included “several falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines,” according to the experts’ letter.
Last week, Young and Mitchell cited those complaints about their music being removed from Spotify, sparking debate across the music industry about the role artists can play in determining where their music is heard. Young called Spotify “the home of life-threatening Covid misinformation”; Mitchell wrote, “Irresponsible people spread lies that cost people their lives.” In response, many users have flooded social media to show their support for Young and Mitchell and to say they are canceling their Spotify subscription, though the service has not said how many accounts have been canceled.
Responding to the criticism on Sunday, Rogan said his goal was to create lively conversations, not to promote misinformation, and that he would do his best to “balance things out” in the future.
In a nearly 10-minute video on Instagram, Rogan said he would be open to “more experts with differing opinions right after I get the controversial ones”.
He added: “My intention with this is always to create interesting conversations that I hope people enjoy.”
Rogan, a comedian and actor, signed an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify in 2020 that is reportedly worth $100 million, although Spotify has not confirmed that figure. His podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” is the service’s most popular show.
The dispute over Rogan’s podcast has sparked new debate over questions of internet freedom of expression and political polarization in the coronavirus era. Technology and social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have been widely accused of playing a prominent role in spreading falsehoods about the virus and the vaccines to prevent it. But some free speech advocates have also defended those channels for allowing open debate, and services like Facebook and YouTube have touted their records by removing what they consider to be obvious misinformation.
Ek said Spotify would add a “content advice” post to every podcast episode that features a discussion of the coronavirus, directing listeners to a “Covid-19 hub” of facts and information. That hub contains links to health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as podcasts from news sources such as the BBC, DailyExpertNews and ABC News.
Ek also wrote that the service is publishing its platform rules for the first time, which address dangerous, deceptive, sensitive and illegal content. Among them are rules that “prohibit content that promotes dangerously false or dangerously misleading medical information that could cause offline harm or pose a direct threat to public health,” including denying the existence of Covid-19 or that “promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.”
When Spotify began removing Young’s music on Wednesday, the company said it has “deleted more than 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic.” Rogan’s episode with Dr. Malone will remain available on Spotify.
Jenny Gross reporting contributed.