Updated Jan 31, 2022 - Technology

Joe Rogan and Spotify CEO respond to critics following boycotts

Joe Rogan. Photo: Vivian Zink/Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Sunday finally responded to a growing chorus of critics panning the streamer for not doing enough to address COVID-19 misinformation.

Why it matters: While health experts have been sounding the alarm about the issue for weeks, it took the threat of high-profile talent boycotts for Spotify to finally admit that it hadn't been transparent around its content policies.

Worth noting: Instead of taking action on the anti-vaccination content from its most popular podcaster Joe Rogan, Ek doubled down in a statement on Spotify's commitment to "creator expression" and vowed to be more transparent about its rules.

  • Rogan denied in a video posted to Instagram on Sunday night that he promoted misinformation and said he would "try harder to get people with differing opinions on" his show and "do my best to make sure I’ve researched these topics."

Details: "We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly," Ek said.

  • Moving forward, Ek said Spotify would add a content advisory to any podcast episode that contains COVID-19 "discussion." He also said the company is testing new ways to highlight its rules to creators to avoid ambiguity.
  • Ek's post also linked to a post on Spotify's website that listed the company's long-standing content moderation policies, which were leaked to The Verge last week. The policies, while previously kept from the public, ban any content suggesting that vaccines cause death, but not anti-vaccination content broadly.

Critics were quick to slam Spotify, arguing Ek's statement didn't go far enough to address Rogan's anti-vaccination comments that still are available on the platform.

  • Ek's statement didn't mention Rogan by name at all.

What he's saying: "I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial," Rogan said.

  • "I've never tried to do anything with this podcast other than to just talk to people."

Flashback: In 2020, Spotify inked an exclusive, multi-year deal to distribute all of Rogan's podcasts, reportedly for over $100 million. Rogan's podcasts are by far the most popular on the platform, with millions of streams per episode.

The big picture: The streamer is facing a very public boycott from popular musicians and podcasters in response to the way it handled an ultimatum from musician Neil Young last week.

  • Young demanded that Spotify take down his music unless it took action to address the vaccine misinformation being spread by Rogan, the most popular podcaster on the platform.
  • Spotify promptly complied saying, "We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify but hope to welcome him back soon.”
  • Other singers and podcasters, including fellow Canadian singer Joni Mitchell and E Street Band member Nils Lofgren, followed suit.
  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who like Rogan have an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify, also expressed "concerns" on Sunday.

Be smart: This level of public pressure around misinformation typically targets bigger social media platforms, like Facebook and YouTube.

  • High-profile boycotts targeting those companies haven't typically resulted in meaningful business losses, but they have caused reputational crises that sometimes temporarily spook investors and advertisers.

What to watch: Spotify's stock is down nearly 30% since the start of the year.

  • So far it hasn't faced a widespread advertising boycott, but some users have taken to Twitter to say they're canceling their subscriptions.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Rogan.

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