Oct 29, 2020 - Economy & Business

Spotify has a Joe Rogan dilemma

Illustration of podcast symbol with headphones on and smiling
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Spotify is getting slammed for allowing Joe Rogan, one of its most popular podcasters, to host far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show.

Why it matters: The company, which still distributes mostly music, will begin to encounter more of these types of problems as it expands its podcast business.

Internal emails leaked to BuzzFeed News show that Spotify's general counsel has defended the company's decision to allow Rogan to host Jones.

  • The email includes talking points managers can use when defending the decision.
  • “We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people’s shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies," it advises.
  • “Spotify has always been a place for creative expressions."
  • "It’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform.”

Rogan hosted Jones on his podcast that aired Tuesday. In a lengthy interview, Jones disputed the effectiveness of vaccines.

  • Rogan pushed back on Jones and asked his producers to pull up the articles he referenced for more context.
  • Critics argued that by allowing Jones to be interviewed by Rogan on Spotify's platform, Spotify is giving Jones a platform to spew misinformation.

Catch up quick: Spotify already banned some of Jones' podcasts from its platform for violating its rules on hate speech.

  • But the company says that Jones himself isn't banned from appearing on Rogan's podcast, as it has no editorial control over what Rogan creates.
  • Jones' pages and profiles have been banned from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Apple's app store, mostly for hate speech. He has been known to peddle conspiracies ranging from unproven anti-vaccination content to theories that the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting was staged.
  • Spotify brought "The Joe Rogan Experience," one of the most popular podcasts in America, to the platform via a multi-year exclusive deal in September.

Be smart: Spotify doesn't typically ban creators for good. Rather, it aims to ban their content if it violates the company's policies.

  • Sources say its policies were designed that way in an effort to be consistent with the way it moderates music.
  • Felons, like R. Kelly, are allowed to have their music remain on the platform, because the music itself doesn't technically violate its policies. But Spotify limits the distribution of that content by blocking it from playlists and promotion.

Between the lines: It's not the first time the company has had to defend Rogan's show from critics.

  • In September, Rogan issued an apology and a retraction after spreading misinformation about people starting fires on the West Coast during an interview with conservative commentator Douglas Murray.
  • Later that month, Spotify's CEO had to defend keeping Rogan's podcasts on his platform after staffers complained about feeling alienated by transphobic comments he had made on his podcast.

The bottom line: Spotify isn't the only platform grappling with content moderation decisions. Technology has created an environment in which nearly any platform can be weaponized to spew misinformation or hate.

  • Drawing those lines has been difficult for many new-age tech companies, including big information platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook, as well as music and video companies like Apple and YouTube, and even entertainment and wellness platforms like TikTok, Peloton, and Etsy.
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