Spotify defends response to Joe Rogan controversy, citing need to support 'creator expression'
Spotify executives defended their response to the roiling controversy over The Joe Rogan Experience on Wednesday, amid growing outcry over the streamer's role in spreading COVID misinformation through the popular podcast.
On an earnings call Wednesday afternoon, Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek cited the company's "critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users," echoing his earlier public statements, and emphasized the measures Spotify has taken to combat misinformation about the virus and vaccines.
"I know this issue has been top of mind this week, but I think it's important to take a step back," Ek said on the call. "We're trying to balance creative expression with the safety of our users. And of course, this is a very complicated issue... But I'm really proud of the steps we took following the concerns raised by the medical and scientific communities."
Both Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their music from Spotify last week in protest of what Mitchell called "lies that are costing people their lives," with Young calling out Rogan's podcast specifically. An earlier open letter, signed by hundreds of scientists, professors, and medical professionals and reshared by Mitchell, called on Spotify to "implement a misinformation policy" regarding COVID-19, citing a specific episode of The Joe Rogan Experience containing "baseless conspiracy theories."
In response, Spotify published "long-standing platform rules" for the first time and began adding a content advisory to any podcast that includes a discussion about COVID-19. In a public letter released on Sunday, Ek wrote, "It is important to me that we don't take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them."
On Wednesday's call, the CEO elaborated further, stating, "I think the important part here is that we don't change our policies based on one creator, nor do we change it based on any media cycle or calls from anyone else. Our policies have been carefully written with the input from numbers of internal and external experts in this space. And I do believe they are right for our platform. And while Joe has a massive audience — he's actually the number one podcast in more than 90 markets — he also has to abide by those policies."
Rogan also addressed the situation Sunday night in a 10-minute Instagram video, defending his statements and adding that he would "do his best" to research the subjects discussed on his podcast, "the controversial ones in particular — and have all the pertinent facts at hand before I discuss them," he said. "I don't always get it right."
Since Young and Mitchell pulled their music, other artists including singer India.Arie have followed suit, and Young's former bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash publicly asked for their music to be removed as well. Several podcasters, including Mary L. Trump, Scott Galloway, and Roxane Gay, have also said they would either remove their shows from Spotify or stop releasing new episodes.
Ek, however, said that Spotify hadn't noticed any substantial "churn" — meaning a drop in subscribers — due to the controversy, despite many calling for a boycott of the platform on social media.
"We don't reflect any churn from the recent JRE thing," he said on the earnings call. "In general, what I would say is it's too early to know what the impact may be. And usually, when we've had controversies in the past, those are measured in months and not days. But I feel good about where we are in relation to that."
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