Joe Rogan apologizes and Spotify CEO promises to better regulate COVID misinformation as more musicians boycott the streaming service

January 31, 2022, 6:55 AM UTC
Updated January 31, 2022, 3:42 PM UTC

Spotify and Joe Rogan on Sunday announced changes in how they would handle controversial content amid a growing backlash from musicians over COVID-19 misinformation shared on a Rogan podcast.

In a Instagram video post published late Sunday and already viewed over 2.4 million times, Rogan said he needed to do more research before having controversial scientists on his show and “could have more experts with different opinions right after the controversial ones.” He added that his show had become an “out-of-control juggernaut,” and “If I pissed you off, I’m sorry.”

Also on Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said the streaming giant would add a “content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19.”

“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 statement on Spotify’s website.

As part of that balance, Ek says Spotify will add a content advisory label to any podcast that mentions COVID-19, which will direct listeners to a “dedicated COVID-19 hub” that “provides easy access to data-driven facts.” As of writing, Spotify’s COVID-19 hub is a collection of three daily podcasts about the coronavirus, published by the BBC, ABC, and Politico, respectively.

Last week, Spotify said it had deleted 20,000 podcast episodes it believed were spreading misinformation about COVID-19, including 40 episodes from Joe Rogan’s 1,768 episode catalog. As of Monday, however, the Rogan episode that kick-started the current criticism of Spotify’s COVID coverage is still available, without a content advisory sticker. Spotify did not immediately respond to request for comment on why the label had not been added yet.

The backlash—or feedback, as Ek calls it—began earlier this month when 260 health care professionals wrote an open letter lambasting Spotify for an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in which guest Robert Malone “promot[ed] baseless conspiracy theories” about COVID-19.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the group said.

Last Monday, the musician Neil Young threw his support behind the 260 health care workers and delivered Spotify an ultimatum: Either deplatform Joe Rogan or remove Young’s music from its offerings. Spotify, which paid Rogan $100 million in 2020 as part of an exclusive streaming agreement, decided to delist Young’s back catalog, saying they “hope to welcome him back soon.”

On Friday, folk icon Joni Mitchell joined Young’s Spotify boycott and demanded Spotify remove her music, too. Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren demanded the same. Spotify agreed, and as of Monday, Mitchell’s and Young’s work is available on Spotify only as part of compilation albums.

Although Spotify clearly values Rogan’s podcast above the work of ’60s singer-songwriters like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, the boycott has had some economic downside for the company. Last week, Spotify’s shares dropped 8%, wiping over $2 billion in market cap over the five days following Young’s ultimatum. Shares in the streaming platform are down 30% since the start of the year, amid a general rout in U.S. tech stocks—though the Nasdaq composite index closed up 2% last Friday, over the week before.

“I’m very sorry that this is happening to [Spotify] and they’re taking so much heat for it,” Rogan said in his Instagram post.

The market has yet to react to the weekend’s developments, but Spotify’s decision to begin flagging dubious content—as ineffective as that may be when it comes to stemming the spread of misinformation—marks a shift in how the company accepts responsibility as a curator of audio content. Spotify is no longer simply a streaming service, it’s a publishing house, too.

The U.S.’s other major media platforms have faced similar reckonings during the pandemic. Last year, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google all testified before Congress about what their companies were doing to prevent the spread of misinformation. Spotify has, until now, been spared.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.