On January 30th, 2022, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek announced via a blogpost that they would be publishing their long-standing platform rules. These rules are intended to guide content creators on the platform. The reason for this move? It was a swift response from Spotify to quell a brewing controversy that began with a podcast by one of its popular hosts Joe Rogan on December 31st, 2021. It prompted rock icon Neil Young to pull his music from Spotify last week.

joe rogan spotify
Joe Rogan draws flak for his comments on the Covid-19 vaccines.

“When I left Spotify, I felt better”

Young’s emotional letter to Spotify was prompted by the persistent stream of misinformation about vaccines on The Joe Rogan Experience. Excerpts of the letter were published in Rolling Stone. “I support free speech,” he wrote. “I have never been in favour of censorship. Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others.”

“Choose me or Rogan”

And it’s not just Young, Canadian singer Joni Mitchell, a polio survivor like the prolific Young, also joined the Spotify boycott. While Mitchell didn’t mention Rogan, she added a link to an open letter signed by a group of over 200 scientists and medical professionals. The letter criticised Spotify for hosting Rogan’s podcast. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan also weighed in and expressed concerns about COVID-19.

Joni mitchell
Joni Mitchell removed her music from Spotify in protest.

 Joe Rogan and Spotify

Spotify is said to have signed a $100 million-dollar, multi-year exclusive deal with Joe Rogan. In 2019, the podcaster announced that 190 million people downloaded his show every month. Each episode of The Joe Rogan Experience attracts about 11 million listeners, and the podcast covers a wide range of topics, from politics to comedy. Rogan’s views have often been controversial but he has maintained that his views can’t be easily categorised. He sides with the liberals on issues like same-sex marriage but also supports gun rights. He has discouraged vaccination in young people and promoted the drug Ivermectin to treat the virus.

Balancing safety for listeners and freedom for creators

Spotify may have begun as a streaming platform but it’s equally a broadcast platform with tremendous clout. “We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users.” Daniel Ek’s stand has won appreciation from multiple quarters, including video-streaming platform Rumble for standing up for free speech and defending creators. Spotify, however, is not pulling down Joe Rogan’s podcast and is instead opting to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about Covid-19.

Will this defuse the current controversy and prevent more musicians from taking down their music from Spotify? We’ll know soon enough.


Image courtesy: www.last.fm (Joni Mitchell)