Music streaming company Spotify says it will start guiding listeners of podcasts discussing COVID-19 to facts about the pandemic, after artists, including Neil Young, pulled their songs from the platform in anger at alleged misinformation.
In a post on Sunday, Spotify Chief Executive Daniel Ek laid out more transparent platform rules given the backlash stirred up by Young after the tech giant declined to get rid of episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience, which has been criticised for spreading virus misinformation.
The artists, also including Joni Mitchell, last week demanded that Spotify remove their music or drop podcaster Joe Rogan after a call from medical professionals to prevent Rogan from promoting “several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines”.
“This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated 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,” Ek said.
“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,” he wrote.
The “new effort to combat misinformation” would roll out in the next few days, he added.
The duke and duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, have also flagged concerns over misinformation on Spotify but reiterated their commitment to continue using it to publish their content.
‘Different from the mainstream’
Rogan, 54, has discouraged vaccination in young people and promoted the off-label use of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to treat the virus.
The podcaster, who has a $100m multi-year exclusive deal with Spotify, was kept on and the company complied with Young’s demand and started removing his catalogue of songs.
In a video posted on his Instagram account, Rogan expressed disappointment that Young and Mitchell pulled their music from Spotify, and sought to explain why his podcast had come under fire.
He cited two episodes in particular, during which he interviewed a cardiologist and a virologist who had worked on mRNA technology, the same method used to make several COVID-19 vaccines.
“They have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is,” Rogan said.
Rather than spreading misinformation, Rogan insisted he was “interested in telling the truth, I’m interested in finding out what the truth is, and I’m interested in having interesting conversations with people that have differing opinions”.
He also praised Spotify’s decision to add a content advisory to coronavirus-related episodes of any podcast.
Rogan noted he made an effort to diversify the medical professionals he talked to and that he had recorded with Dr Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr Michael Osterholm, who is a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, and Dr Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine.
Spotify expressed “regret” over Young’s move but cited a need to balance “both safety for listeners and freedom for creators”.
Spotify’s move drew applause online from organisations including video-streaming platform Rumble, which credited the Swedish company with “defending creators” and standing “up for free speech”.
But Young, 76, also garnered wide praise for taking a stand, including from the World Health Organization chief.
The musician urged fellow artists to follow his lead, and calls for boycotts and cancelled subscriptions flourished on social media.
In recent years, online media titans, including Facebook and YouTube, have come under fire for allowing conspiracy theorists to spread their views.
But despite its explosive growth, podcasting has largely flown under the radar.