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Spotify and Joe Rogan take the easy way out

January 31, 2022, 6:14 PM UTC

Spotify and its $100 million podcaster, Joe Rogan, embarked on the path of least resistance Sunday in response to criticism of the star host’s approach to discussing COVID-19.

Chances are, it’ll work for them.

Faced with a barrage of criticism from medical officials and boycott threats from several prominent musicians, Spotify and Rogan stole a page from the Facebook crisis PR playoff this weekend, unveiling a series of half-measures designed to quell the controversy without tipping over their cash cow. 

Rather than banning more content or cutting ties with Rogan, who has hosted two COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and peddled incomplete information about vaccine safety, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek unveiled significantly smaller measures to fend off critics. Spotify chose to publish the company’s content rules and direct listeners to “data-driven facts and up-to-date information” about COVID-19 before the start of content that addresses the pandemic.

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek wrote in an open letter. “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.”

Rogan, for his part, posted a 10-minute video on Instagram that was, in true Rogan fashion, simultaneously good-natured, defiant, apologetic, well-reasoned, and misguided. 

In his defense, the stand-up comedian accurately noted that he’s hosted health experts with traditional medical opinions, such as CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, and that some tech companies have censored COVID-19 content that later became more mainstream. 

To his credit, Rogan, somewhat begrudgingly, agreed that he could “make sure I’ve researched these topics” more and “maybe try harder to get people with differing opinions” on his show right after speakers with controversial takes.

And yet, Rogan continued to tout the credentials of a doctor who peddled conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines on his show. He also struggled to take ownership for the influence he has on many of his 11 million-plus listeners, repeatedly falling back on the idea that he’s just “trying to have interesting conversations.”

Taken together, the comments portend no major changes by either party. Spotify doesn’t shoulder the uncomfortable and costly burden of policing content. Rogan’s show gets to maintain its defining edge, free of corporate intervention. Everybody keeps making money.

It’s an approach that has worked for social media giants—and, barring a major shift, should work for Spotify.

While we won’t know the financial impact of any boycotts or subscription cancellations until later this spring, it’s hard to envision this controversy putting a big dent in Spotify’s 172 million paid subscriptions. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube continue to grow despite years of misinformation-related backlash.

So far, investors seem unfazed by the blowup. Spotify’s stock price is virtually unchanged since Jan. 24, when folk rocker Neil Young touched off the firestorm by asking the streamer to remove his music in response to Rogan. Spotify’s share price dipped last week before jumping 11% in mid-day trading Monday.

For all the media and Twitter handwringing, the Rogan affair feels destined to join a long list of culture war battles that quietly fade into the background.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

A white-hot industry. Global chip sales reached record heights of $583.5 billion in 2021 as huge demand spurred by the pandemic met a shortage of semiconductors, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing research firm Gartner. The industry’s revenue jumped $117 billion, or 25%, from the prior year amid rampant demand for chips that help power electronics, vehicles, and technology that grew in popularity with more people working from home. Gartner projects that chip revenue will increase 9% in 2022, higher than the typical growth rate for the industry.

The Citrix dance ends. Cloud computing company Citrix Systems will go private in a $16.5 billion acquisition by two top tech investment firms, Elliott Management and Vista Equity Partners, Reuters reported Monday. The sale follows a rough 2021 for the software company, as the company failed to capitalize on the COVID pandemic’s move to remote work, saw its stock decline about 25% despite broad gains in the tech sector, and floated the possibility of a sale. Citrix shareholders will receive $104 in cash per share, 24% higher than the stock’s price when discussions of the possible takeover were first reported six weeks ago.

No bear market here. Cryptocurrency exchange FTX raised $400 million in a new funding round that brought its valuation to $32 billion, shrugging off a recent crypto selloff and rising concerns about industry-wide regulation, CNBC reported Monday. The Bahamas-based outfit ranks as the third-largest crypto exchange, trailing only Binance and Coinbase. The latest funding round continues the remarkable rise of FTX, which was valued at $1.2 billion as recently as 2020.

A new message. WhatsApp parent Meta launched this weekend its first public marketing campaign in the U.S. for the messaging service, aiming to add domestic users after dominating many overseas markets, Bloomberg reported. Television commercials, online ads, and billboards touting WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption features started popping up across the country, targeting customers who text through SMS. While WhatsApp’s free service gained a strong foothold in many foreign markets, where some wireless providers charge for text messages, the service faces stiffer competition at home from Apple and telecom companies that offer free messaging through their phone service.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Shuffling the office chairs. True to Mark Zuckerberg’s word, Meta is going all-in on augmented and virtual reality—and that requires some dramatic internal restructuring of the company better known for Facebook and Instagram. The New York Times documented many of those ongoing changes Monday, which include creating thousands of new hardware and software jobs, pushing staffers to move into metaverse-focused positions, and poaching top engineers from rival companies. It’s the most significant overhaul of company operations since it pivoted from desktop to mobile a decade ago. (That one worked out pretty well.)

From the article:

While some workers were excited about Meta’s pivot, others questioned whether the company was hurtling into a new product without fixing issues such as misinformation and extremism on its social platforms. Workers were expected to adopt a positive attitude toward innovation or leave, one employee said, and some who disagreed with the new mission have departed.

What the metaverse focus means for the company’s existing social networking products like Facebook and Instagram remains in flux, two employees said. At Facebook and Instagram, some teams have shrunk over the last four months, they said, adding that they expected their budgets for the second half of 2022 to be smaller than in previous years.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Elon Musk got into a debate with a teenager who’s tweeting the location of his private jet. It didn’t go well, by Chris Morris

Scammers are registering fake COVID related government websites, by Jeff Stone and Bloomberg

Neuralink’s leader suddenly departed last year. Employees say his relationship with founder Elon Musk had long felt strained, by Jeremy Kahn and Jonathan Vanian

This artist helped create an NFT collection that has seen $166.1 million in sales in just 3 months. Here’s how he did it, by Amiah Taylor

Tesla and other major public companies sunk billions into crypto and now they’re taking a big hit, by Tristan Bove

Why CFOs need to be more than ‘scorekeepers’ in times of company transformation, by Dan Reilly

BEFORE YOU GO

Everything must go. If you had an irrationally faint hope for a BlackBerry revival, it’s not going to happen. Four weeks after BlackBerry yanked the plug on its once-beloved wireless phone service, the Canadian cybersecurity and software company has squeezed the final dollars out of the brand. Reuters reported Monday that BlackBerry will sell its legacy phone product patents to a special purpose acquisition company for $600 million.

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