Junk Explained: What’s Happening With Spotify, Joe Rogan, And Neil Young’s Boycott

Spotify has finally responded to artist and listener boycotts, but many argue the streaming giant still isn't doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation.

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After days of backlash, Spotify has finally responded to boycotts over the streaming giant’s decision to continue promoting Joe Rogan, despite his continual sharing of COVID-19 misinformation.

Rogan has been sharing controversial takes, and giving a platform to problematic people, for as long as his podcast has existed. However, the current situation, which has seen artists and countless listeners boycott Spotify, only kicked off last week.

What Sparked The Spotify Boycott?

On January 24, musician Neil Young published a now-deleted open letter to Spotify on his website, asserting the streaming giant is “spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them”, alluding to Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.

“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” said Young.

In addition to calling out the company, he also demanded that his entire discography be removed from the platform immediately, in protest of the platform’s $100 million USD exclusive deal with Rogan.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform.”

This is the second time Young has puled his music from the platform, the first time being back in 2016 over issues with Spotify’s sound quality.

Young’s letter comes just a month after 270 medicine and science experts signed a similar open letter, asking Spotify to remove the December 31 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, which featured Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious diseases specialist, who has been banned from Twitter for spreading medical misinformation.

While Young wasn’t the first to join the fight, his huge platform and influence in the music industry understandably brought the issue to more mainstream attention.

Who Else Has Spoken Out?

In his now-deleted letter, Young hoped “other artists and record companies will move off the Spotify platform and stop supporting Spotify’s deadly misinformation about COVID” and, unsurprisingly, many have since followed suit.

Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Nils Lofgren are among those who have since asked Spotify to remove their music.

“Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue,” said Mitchell in a statement.

Meanwhile, James Blunt took to Twitter to threaten to release new music if Spotify doesn’t remove Joe Rogan.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — whose podcast company Archewell Audio is partnered with Spotify — released a statement expressing their concerns, but not ending the partnership.

In addition to these big names, countless Spotify listeners have flocked to social media to announce they have cancelled their memberships and are boycotting the platform in protest of the Rogan partnership.

Spotify Finally Responds

In a statement released on Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek refused to condemn Rogan or make any comment about his future with the platform. Instead, he released the platform’s new plan to tackle misinformation.

“To our very core, we believe that listening is everything. Pick almost any issue and you will find people and opinions on either side of it. Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly,” said Ek.

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

The company released new platform rules, which cover everything from promoting violence and targeted hate, to promoting “dangerous deceptive medical information.” Under this banner the following types of content is not allowed on the platform:

  • Asserting that AIDS, COVID-19, cancer, or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax or not real
  • Encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases
  • Promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death
  • Encouraging people to purposely get infected with COVID-19 in order to build immunity to it (e.g. promoting or hosting “coronavirus parties”)

Additionally, the platform will add content warnings before any COVID-related podcasts, which will link back to a COVID-19 hub that promotes peer-reviewed science and facts about COVID.

Joe Rogan Responds

On Monday, Rogan released a nine-minute clip on Spotify addressing the controversy.

“They have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is. I had them on and because of that, those episodes in particular, those episodes were labelled as being dangerous,” said Rogan.

Throughout the rest of the clip, Rogan basically tries to quash the idea that the podcast spreads misinformation by noting that we are continually learning about COVID. While this is technically true, it doesn’t mean that people should be broadcasting non-peer-reviewed medical information on one of the world’s biggest podcasts.

Rogan himself even confirms that he doesn’t know if the experts he has on his show are right, and that he simply enjoys having conversations. It goes without saying that the issue isn’t Rogan’s desire to have conversations, it’s the fact that he takes very little accountability for having these conversations in front of millions of listeners.

“I do not know if they’re right, I don’t know because I’m not a doctor and I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them,” said Rogan.

At the time of publishing, the episode with Dr Robert Malone is still live on Spotify with no content warning in the audio itself, or in the episode’s description.