Not Enough

Spotify addresses Joe Rogan issue by linking to COVID data page no one will read

“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.”

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 09: Joe Rogan in attendance in front of a packed house at the UFC 264 ceremonia...
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Over the weekend, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek published a piece via the company’s news blog attempting to quell the raging dumpster fire his streaming platform has helped fuel for months by granting Rogan unfettered freedom to entertain objectively false COVID-19 remedies, transphobic intellectual grifters in tuxedos, and Carrot Top. Instead of, say, establishing a “no quackery” clause for its exclusive podcast clients that would prohibit them from promoting dangerous, easily debunked theories related to the pandemic and climate change, Ek vowed to... warn listeners that the episode they are about to listen could possibly contain disprovable content.

“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is not,” Ek wrote. “Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex.”

Would it surprise to learn that a) many of these issues aren’t that complex, and b) Spotify’s “solution” falls far short of what’s needed at the moment?

Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO and guy whose yearbook quote definitely was, “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images

COVID text for an audio app — According to Ek, one of the new solutions Spotify will soon implement is “a content advisory” prefacing podcasts that include COVID-19 discussions. The advisory will also reference the company’s dedicated COVID-19 Hub,” that “provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources.”

Nobody listening to a series like The Joe Rogan Experience will read it, of course, but Spotify can say it’s being “proactive” by providing the option without taking any actual steps that might lose it revenue.

Vague rules — It’s great to see the now-published Spotify content rules, if only to see just how vague the whole setup is for content creators. In terms of medical misinformation regulation, examples include:

  • asserting that AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax or not real
  • encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases
  • promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death
  • encouraging people to purposely get infected with COVID-19 in order to build immunity to it (e.g. promoting or hosting “coronavirus parties”)

Notably absent from this is, say, suggesting the horse dewormer, ivermectin, is an effective alternative treatment for COVID-19, something Rogan has done multiple times in the past.

When it comes to consequences, Spotify is even vaguer. “We take these decisions seriously and keep context in mind when making them. Breaking the rules may result in the violative content being removed from Spotify. Repeated or egregious violations may result in accounts being suspended and/or terminated.” While that may sound effective at first read, the inclusions of caveat language such as “may result” makes it clear that this is all still completely up to Spotify’s discretion.

It’s easy to enforce these rules on a podcast that nets the company very little overall revenue, but it’s hard to envision the same treatment for such a huge moneymaker as Joe Rogan. It’s going to take much, much more than this to deal with the misinformation Spotify is complicit in propagating. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see it adopting a more hardline approach than this.