Spotify CEO responds to Joe Rogan controversy with new Covid-19 policies

New York, New York - Following weeks of criticism over Spotify’s controversial podcast host Joe Rogan, CEO Daniel Ek acknowledged Sunday that "we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly."

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek (l.) responded to the controversy around Joe Rogan's latest podcast episodes.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek (l.) responded to the controversy around Joe Rogan's latest podcast episodes.  © Collage: IMAGO / TT & screenshot/Instagram/Joe Rogan

"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," Ek said in a blog post, which announced the publication of the platform’s internal content moderation policies as well as a new labeling system for Covid-19-related content.

However, Ek did not specifically mention Rogan or his show, The Joe Rogan Experience, which is the most popular podcast on Spotify. Ek’s post hinted that the company was not going to bow to calls from artists such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to remove Rogan’s show from the platform entirely over the host’s oft-criticized discussions of Covid-19 scientific issues.

"We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users," Ek said. "In that role, 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."

Mounting concern over Covid-19 misinformation

Spotify has lagged behind many of its corporate peers in articulating a stance on the "misinformation" policies.
Spotify has lagged behind many of its corporate peers in articulating a stance on the "misinformation" policies.  © 123RF/daviles

Since the pandemic began in 2020, Spotify has lagged behind many of its corporate peers in articulating a stance on the "misinformation" policies that many digital platforms adopted to limit the spread of potentially medically harmful information online.

Some figures, particularly vaccine skeptics, have been critical that such policies stifled open debate online, while many medical experts have argued that promoting vaccine hesitancy or untested Covid-19 treatments could have potentially deadly consequences.

Spotify struck the somewhat awkward balance of creating an internal content moderation policy that it has applied to some users, but which, until now, it had declined to publish online or to otherwise publicly explain.

Ariana Grande drops wicked snaps of hubby on Insta!
Celebrities Ariana Grande drops wicked snaps of hubby on Insta!

The company’s reluctance to explain its position has been repeatedly tested by the controversies surrounding Rogan, who often interviews subjects skeptical of Covid-19 medical orthodoxy and who have been banned from other platforms for violating "misinformation" policies.

The company signed an exclusive distribution deal with Rogan in 2020 said to be worth about $100 million, and Rogan has repeatedly said that the company has not tried to censor or limit what he says on his program.

High bar for content removal

Rogan, a former UFC commentator, produces one of the most globally popular podcasts, The Joe Rogan Experience.
Rogan, a former UFC commentator, produces one of the most globally popular podcasts, The Joe Rogan Experience.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The current wave of controversy began after Rogan interviewed a prominent vaccine skeptic, Robert Malone, in December, leading 200 medical professionals, academics and others to send a January 10 open letter demanding the service "immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform."

The misinformation rules that Spotify disclosed Sunday set a relatively high bar for content removal. It’s specifically forbidden by Spotify to claim that Covid-19 is a hoax, that the vaccines were "designed to cause death," or to encourage listeners to drink bleach as a treatment or to deliberately catch the virus.

It does not seem forbidden, however, to argue that people shouldn’t get vaccinated or that vaccines are ineffective, or a variety of other common arguments about which many medical experts have been critical.

"These policies were developed by our internal team in concert with a number of outside experts and are updated regularly to reflect the changing safety landscape," Ek wrote in his post. "These are rules of the road to guide all of our creators – from those we work with exclusively to those whose work is shared across multiple platforms."

Ek said the company’s new content advisory label would apply to any podcast with a discussion about Covid-19, and would refer users to the company’s "Covid-19 Hub, a resource 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."

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / TT & screenshot/Instagram/Joe Rogan

More on the topic Celebrities: