Take a quick scan of your trending tab on Twitter. “Deleted Spotify” and “Bye Spotify” should be somewhere in the mix. And not by chance. The streamer has doubled-down on its resident elk-meat-weed-and-supplement-fueled podcasting superstar, Joe Rogan, with the swift removal of Neil Young‘s catalog from their platform. It wasn’t a random eviction. In fact, the folk-rock legend demanded it.
In a since-deleted note to his management team and label (Reprise Records via Warner Music) posted to his website, Young cited an open letter to Spotify from hundreds of doctors, scientists, and medical professionals who called on the streamer to either enact a protocol for COVID-19 and vaccine conspiracies being openly peddled by Rogan on his podcast or simply be clear about what those protocols actually are. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” Young wrote in his original post. In response to the ultimatum posed by Young, Spotify made a quick and predictable choice to back Rogan, the pillar of their massive investment into podcasting in recent years.
Young and the legion of medical experts who called out Spotify’s seemingly non-existent content moderation have taken particular issue with a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience featuring a discussion with Dr. Robert Malone. During his appearance on the show, Malone echoed alt-right and alt-medicine talking points that have undermined the combined efforts of the medical and scientific communities to pull us out of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Malone likened vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and claimed the public was being “hypnotized” by leaders in medicine, media, and science, which openly promotes a distrust of the sciences — and more broadly, the government — at a time when faith in those institutions are invaluable to the safety of the public and the containment of a deadly virus that has already taken the lives of millions across the globe.
For their part, the company insists they have, in fact, taken measures to remove harmful content from their platform. A rep recently told the The Wall Street Journal that 20,000 podcast episodes have been pulled due to violations of “detailed content policies” regarding COVID and vaccines. However, despite pressure from a number of advocacy groups, Spotify has refused to disclose how content gets screened, whether it’s algorithmic or done by flesh-and-blood humans, and what the policy actually is. For Neil Young, and for thousands of creators and subscribers, vagueness won’t cut it. And collecting millions off “mass misinformation events” with their own measurable death toll is morally deplorable.
Again, the math for a company like Spotify, who has invested premium capital into Rogan, is clear. At least internally. Like most of the steamer’s numbers, the precise payout of Rogan’s exclusivity deal with Spotify hasn’t been revealed. However, it’s said to be in the range of $100 million, which instantly puts the former comedian amongst the highest-grossing podcasters on the planet. And not without reason either. According to Edison Research, The Joe Rogan Experience has been the most popular podcast across all platforms for two years and running. And though there’s growing evidence of Rogan’s move to the streaming platform having actually stifled his expansion and influence, his true value to the company, like any other participant on the platform, is directly correlated to the amount ad revenue he can generate. Which, by the way, is a lot. According to The Verge, companies pay no less than $1 million to run ads during Rogan’s show. This all to say, Spotify has found an asset worth guarding in Rogan and the podcasting landscape at large, no matter the cost to its balance sheet or the safety of its subscribers.
But Neil Young and the Spotify customers currently deleting their accounts en masse have run their own numbers. In conjunction with a historical disregard for the demands of artists petitioning the streamer for fair royalties, the company siding with Rogan’s dangerously irresponsible use of a platform that reaches north of 10 million listeners per episode, is a step too far. And though alternatives to Spotify are few, they exist. Which is potentially more than they can say for those taking medical advice from a comedian who has been repeatedly proven wrong, on-air, by his own guests.
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