Spotify responds to antivax controversy as Rogan releases new video

The controversy over the Spotify exclusive podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, has been dominating news headlines the past week. It began unfolding after legendary rocker Neil Young called on Spotify to either pull The Joe Rogan Experience podcast or his music. Spotify has decided to stick with Joe Rogan, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the show is its most popular podcast while it was only in 2020 that it is rumored to have penned a multi-year exclusivity deal with Rogan worth $100 million. However, Spotify has taken a lot of heat of recent Rogan episodes that involved interviews with Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone who made numerous claims that have lacked any scientific basis.

While some have dismissed Neil Young's stand as being ineffectual, in the days since the controversy broke, Spotify's shares have been hammered losing 12 percent or around $4 billion in market value. In response, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has published a blog outlining its plans to address the content distributed on its platform without directly addressing The Joe Rogan Experience explicitly. The company has now published its Platform Rules, which up until now only had visibility with content creators while also taking steps to raise awareness of what content is acceptable and what isn't. Ek also said that Spotify is working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19 and will direct listeners to its COVID-19 Hub.

Going on the defensive

In his blog, Ek goes on to highlight Spotify's efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the previously highlighted COVID-19 Hub as well as ad inventory it donated to vaccine awareness, funds to the World Health Organization and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) along with supporting the Go Give One fundraising campaign. Spotify also established a music relief project to support the creative community. Ek concludes his blog by saying "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."

It remains to be seen whether Ek's response will be considered sufficient by critics. As for Joe Rogan himself, the podcaster has posted an almost 10-minute long self-shot video on Instagram directly addressing the issues that have been raised with his show and the particular episodes concerned. With regard to hosting the controversial doctors, McCullough and Malone, Rogan defended the pair saying that they are "highly credentialed, very intelligent, very accomplished people, and they have an opinion that is different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is." While Rogan was able to defend some of the claims that the men made, he didn't address the more controversial claims made by the two other than to suggest they could one day become mainstream.

No apologies for the guests, but concessions planned

In the video, Rogan says that he supports Spotify's plans to label episodes that include discussions regarding COVID-19 with disclaimers and links to accepted factual sources on the subject within the platform. Rogan thanked Spotify "for being so supportive" and also added that "I am very sorry that this is happening to them and that they're taking so much heat from it".

However, he indicates he doesn't have any plans to avoid having guests with controversial or "non-mainstream" views. Instead, Rogan proposes that "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." 

Usually, it is social media giants like Facebook and Twitter that have been subject to criticisms about the lack of oversight on their platforms and Spotify's response shows that it has been caught somewhat unprepared by the controversy. Only time will tell if the measures they have taken are sufficient. Similarly, Rogan's show will continue to undergo scrutiny and, likewise, it will remain to be seen if his proposed changes to the show will also help reduce or eliminate criticisms of spreading misinformation. Of course, there are numerous other platforms that host podcasts and it will be interesting to see if any take similar measures as Spotify is proposing lest they too end up in the midst of a PR dumpster fire.