After controversy, Spotify puts Covid-19 notices to stop Joe Rogan linked boycotts
Spotify published internal rules governing what content is and isn’t allowed on its service. Company will add an advisory to any podcast episode that addresses Covid-19 issues.
Spotify Technology SA outlined steps it will take to halt the spread of misleading information about Covid-19 on its audio-streaming service in an attempt to quell a growing controversy over its support for the podcast host Joe Rogan. Spotify published internal rules Sunday governing what content is and isn't allowed on its service, and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek said in a blog post that the company will add an advisory to any podcast episode that addresses the coronavirus.
The company is trying to end a mounting insurrection among a vocal minority of users and musicians without alienating its most popular podcaster. Folk singers Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their music from Spotify last week in protest of Rogan, a popular podcaster who has hosted several outspoken skeptics of the Covid-19 vaccines.
Spotify created rules governing acceptable content on its service years ago and built a hub with Covid-19 information early in the pandemic. While those policies have been accessible for employees, the company didn't make them public until Sunday after a series of scandals jeopardized its business.
“We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven't been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly,” Ek wrote in the blog post. “This, in turn, led to questions around their application to serious issues including Covid-19.”
Both Young and Mitchell suffered from polio as children, and their rebuke of Spotify followed a letter from more than 200 medical professionals criticizing the company as well. Social-research professor Brene Brown said Saturday she would stop releasing new episodes of her podcast until further notice, though she didn't specify why.
A Spotify spokesperson said it is the first major podcasting service to publish content guidelines and that it would work to refine them in the years ahead. The number of podcasts on Spotify has ballooned to more than 3 million shows over the past few years, and the company is still creating its best practices for evaluating them.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the action will be enough to calm the maelstrom. The rules outlaw dangerous, deceptive, sensitive and illegal content, including anything that advocates or glorifies serious physical harm, deceptive content, interferes with an election or infringes on a copyright. Spotify's post doesn't mention Rogan by name, nor does it specify any podcasts it has already taken down. None of Rogan's episodes violate Spotify's policies, the spokesperson said.
Rogan has presented a public relations conundrum for Spotify ever since the company paid more than $100 million for the exclusive rights to his show. He offers a hospitable environment for guests with controversial points of view about the pandemic, politics and just about every other topic.
The criticism and controversy has thus far been worth it to the company's leadership: Spotify's stock price jumped the day they announced the deal, and Rogan hosts the single most popular podcast on its service. Spotify moved into podcasting hoping it would turn its popular but unprofitable music service into a more lucrative business. Investors cheered the efforts, though they have cooled on the company in recent months. Its stock has fallen 48% in the past 12 months, closing at $172.98 on Jan. 28 with a stock-market value of $33 billion.
Criticism from famous musicians hurts Spotify more than any angry social-media comments. The company built its business as the most popular paid music-streaming service, and music is still the most popular audio genre on Spotify. While neither Mitchell nor Young matters to Spotify's business all that much, they are two of the most respected musicians alive and their voices have the potential to inspire others to speak out.