Two summers ago, on a 20-hour drive from Michigan to Texas, I decided to find out what all the Joe Rogan fuss was about.
Somewhere along a desolate stretch of Arkansas highway, I turned on an episode of the comedian’s wildly popular podcast. The guest: conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
For nearly two hours, Rogan and Shapiro volleyed over issues of race and criminal justice. Shapiro spouted his usual right-wing dogma. Rogan, meanwhile, pushed back at times with pointed questions and well-founded skepticism, taking stances that would more align with a left-leaning pundit.
I left the conversation mostly unimpressed with Rogan’s logic—countless critics offer far more educated and insightful thoughts on race—but appreciative of his willingness to host an open-ended forum with someone whose opinions skew conservative.
Therein lies the Rogan rub. One day, he’s a refreshingly anti-establishment figure, a welcome counterbalance to the traditional media’s tightly-drawn lines for acceptable discourse. The next day, he’s a boorish lunkhead spewing irresponsible and prejudicial nonsense to millions of devoted listeners.
This is what Spotify signed up for when the streaming service gave him $100 million to bring The Joe Rogan Experience exclusively onto its platform.
And it’s why Spotify CEO Daniel Ek finds himself staring down the company’s biggest firestorm to date. Rogan is facing intense backlash for the second straight weekend, this time for repeating the N-word on dozens of podcasts and comparing a predominantly Black neighborhood to Planet of the Apes in a past episode. (Rogan endured criticism late last month for hosting two guests promoting COVID-19 anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.)
So far, Ek continues to side with Rogan. Spotify took down about 70 episodes believed to contain the N-word and Ek condemned some of Rogan’s speech, but Ek ultimately concluded that “I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”
Rogan called his past use of the N-word “regretful” and “shameful,” adding that a clip of him repeating the slur was taken out of context. Rogan suggested he merely quoted others’ use of the word, rather than maliciously directing it at an individual or group. (Interestingly, Rogan expressed contrition several months ago about his use of the N-word to less fanfare.)
Spotify doesn’t yet have much financial incentive for dumping Rogan. Headline-grabbing boycotts by artists Neil Young and Joni Mitchell haven’t widely spread throughout the music community, and Ek didn’t sound too concerned in a recent earnings call about mass subscription cancellations.
Maybe this will change if Taylor Swift and Drake take up the cause or spring-quarter revenue tanks as subscribers flee. But barring a bigger firestorm, Rogan doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.
And if that’s the case, here’s the least we should demand from him and Spotify moving forward: accountability.
Hold Rogan to his commitment of self-improvement. Listen for his use of insensitive and prejudicial language. Watch to see if he has “more (COVID-19) experts with different opinions right after the controversial ones,” as he suggested he should. Blast him publicly when he falls short.
Hold Ek to his pledge, made this weekend, to “an incremental investment of $100 million” for supporting musicians and audio content creators from “historically marginalized groups.” Make sure that money gets spent in a timely fashion on high-value projects.
This solution certainly will fall short for those calling for Rogan’s removal from Spotify. But in a business environment that allows him to keep his mic, we should, at a minimum, expect that all sides grow from this Joe Rogan experience.
Think that Joe Rogan should be dropped from Spotify? How would you pressure the company to do it? Believe that Daniel Ek is taking the right approach? Drop me a line here.
A fast ride. Shares of Peloton jumped 23% in mid-day trading Monday following multiple media reports that the scuffling fitness company is exploring a sale, with Amazon and Nike named as potential suitors. The reports by The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and The Financial Times suggest Peloton could quickly sell after its market capitalization collapsed from about $50 billion last year to $8 billion as of last week. Peloton sales and demand skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic, but hardware supply delays and management issues prompted a months-long stock selloff.
Is that a threat? Meta has reiterated its warning that the company might have to remove Facebook and Instagram from Europe if a transatlantic government deal related to bulk data transferring isn’t reached in the coming months, Bloomberg reported Monday. In an annual report, Meta officials said it would “likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services” in Europe if the U.S. and European Union can’t hash out a court-sanctioned agreement detailing how companies can move data between the two sides. A European Union court ruled in 2020 that an existing pact violates the rights of Europeans, citing concerns about consumers’ privacy once data arrives in the U.S.
An NFT unmasking. Some blockchain and Web3 enthusiasts spent the weekend attacking the author of a Buzzfeed News article that revealed the identities of the Bored Ape Yacht Club creators, prompting an online debate about reporting on the privacy-friendly online communities. The author, tech journalist Katie Notopolous, discovered the names of the popular non-fungible token art creators Greg Solano and Wylie Aronow using public records and other sources. Aronow and his supporters claimed he was doxxed, while journalism advocates defended the piece as responsible reporting on a duo seeking billions of dollars in venture capital investment through their company, Yuga Labs.
Just a few billion off. The Federal Communications Commission has received $5.6 billion worth of requests for federal funds to rip out and replace equipment used by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, about $3.7 billion more than the agency originally budgeted for the effort, PC Mag reported Sunday. The funding requests from about 180 companies follow a federal mandate issued in 2019 that states wireless carriers and Internet service providers must remove equipment made by the two companies, due to fears that the Chinese government could use the products to spy on Americans. It’s not yet clear whether the FCC will increase its replacement budget or deny some requests.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A chip in a haystack. They just don’t make chips like they used to, apparently. As semiconductors keep shrinking in size and manufacturers continue to jam more chips into servers, tech companies are grappling with hardware reliability issues that threaten to disrupt some of the world’s biggest networks, The New York Times reported Monday. The incredibly tiny size of transistors and processors, many the width of atoms, makes it increasingly difficult to isolate and fix faulty hardware that can easily derail vital pieces of tech equipment.
From the article:
In a microprocessor that has billions of transistors—or a computer memory board composed of trillions of the tiny switches that can each store a 1 or 0—even the smallest error can disrupt systems that now routinely perform billions of calculations each second.
At the beginning of the semiconductor era, engineers worried about the possibility of cosmic rays occasionally flipping a single transistor and changing the outcome of a computation. Now they are worried that the switches themselves are increasingly becoming less reliable.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
EXCLUSIVE: Woman- and POC-owned VC and private equity firms have hit an all-time high—but they still raise just a sliver of overall funding, by Maria Aspan
Is the metaverse takeover inevitable?, by Lance Lambert
Small-caps were a hot stock pick a year ago. Now Goldman Sachs warns of trouble ahead, by Bernhard Warner
Creators are seeking alternatives as big platforms vie for talent, by Mike Donoghue
Madden’s eerily accurate Super Bowl LVI prediction says the Bengals will top the Rams, by Chris Morris
BEFORE YOU GO
Unreal estate. For sale: A five-bed, four-bath Spanish-style ranch home located about three miles inland from Florida’s St. Pete Beach. The price: $650,000 in crypto. The catch: It’s an NFT. In what’s believed to be a first in American real estate, a Palo Alto-based real estate company will auction off the Sunshine State home as a non-fungible token, The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday. According to homeowner and blockchain company founder Leslie Alessandra, the property deed would get converted into a limited liability company, and the winning bidder would take ownership of the LLC via an NFT tracked on the blockchain. The move would allow the purchaser to resell on a moment’s notice, avoiding those pesky real estate agent fees. No word yet on whether the fine folks in Pinellas County government will have a say in the matter.
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