Spotify responds to complaints about Covid misinformation

Spotify’s chief executive responded to growing complaints from musicians and listeners on Sunday about the role of Joe Rogan, the streaming service’s star podcaster, in spreading what has been widely criticized as coronavirus misinformation. Last week, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell – two musical icons whose cultural influence far exceeds their streaming numbers – pulled their music from Spotify in protest at the platform’s support of Rogan.

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” wrote CEO Daniel Ek, who is also a founder of Spotify. in a public letter. “In this role, it’s important to me that we don’t take the position of content censor while ensuring that there are rules in place and consequences for those who break them.”

Ek made no specific mention of Rogan, who has drawn complaints for his interviews with vaccine skeptics. This month, a group of more than 200 professors and public health officials called on Spotify to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation on its platform, and highlighted a recent episode of Rogan’s podcast featuring Dr Robert Malone, an infectious disease expert, who included “several lies about Covid-19 vaccines,” according to the experts’ letter.

Last week, Young and Mitchell cited those complaints when removing their music from Spotify, sparking debate across the music industry about the role artists can play in deciding where their music is heard. Young called Spotify “the home of life-threatening Covid misinformation”; Mitchell wrote, “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people lives. In response, many users took to social media to show their support for Young and Mitchell and to say they were canceling their Spotify subscriptions, although the service did not say how many accounts had been cancelled.

More broadly, the issue has sparked a new debate on issues of internet free speech and political polarization in the age of coronavirus. Technology and social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have been widely accused of playing a leading role in spreading untruths about the virus and vaccines to prevent it. But some free speech advocates have also defended these outlets for allowing open debate, and services like Facebook and YouTube have touted their records for removing what they consider clear misinformation.

Ek said Spotify would add an “advisory content” notice to any podcast episode that includes discussion of the coronavirus, directing listeners to a “Covid-19 hub” with facts and information. This hub includes links to health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as podcasts from news sources such as the BBC, CNN and ABC News. Rogan, a comedian and actor, signed an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify in 2020 which is reportedly worth $100 million, although Spotify has not confirmed that figure. His show is the most popular on Spotify.

Ek also wrote that for the first time, the service is releasing its Platform Rules, which address dangerous, misleading, sensitive, and illegal content. Among them are rules prohibiting “content that promotes dangerous false or misleading medical information that may cause offline harm or pose a direct threat to public health”, including denial of the existence of Covid-19 or that “promote or suggest that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.

When Spotify began removing Young’s music on Wednesday, the company said it had “removed over 20,000 Covid-related podcast episodes since the start of the pandemic.” Rogan’s episode with Dr. Malone remains available on Spotify.

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