LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 09: UFC commentator Joe Rogan announces the fighters during a ceremonial weigh in for UFC 264 at T-Mobile Arena on July 09, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Scientists call out Spotify for misinformation on Joe Rogan's podcast
02:40 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

Neil Young only wants to keep on rocking in the reality based world.

The 76-year-old rock-and-roll icon has taken a stand against vaccine misinformation, telling the streaming platform Spotify to remove his music if it continues to feature those who regularly disseminate lies and conspiracy theories about Covid-19.

Jill Filipovic

“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” Young wrote in a letter to his management team, which was first reported by Rolling Stone and has now been deleted. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

CNN has reached out to Young’s manager, his publicist at Warner Records and Spotify for comment. Frank Gironda, Young’s manager, did confirm to the Daily Beast that the two had discussed Young’s concerns and were “trying to figure this out right now.” He said that Young was “very upset about this disinformation.”

In the now-deleted letter, Young seemed specifically incensed at sharing a streaming platform with podcaster Joe Rogan, whose show “The Joe Rogan Experience” was acquired by Spotify in 2020, in an exclusive deal worth more than $100 million. It was the most popular podcast on Spotify last year.

On the show, Rogan and guests identified as experts have said that vaccination isn’t necessary for the young and healthy (they are); that ivermectin is an effective treatment for Covid (it isn’t, and using it in large doses poses serious potential health risks); and that people who have Covid face health risks from getting vaccinated (they don’t).

Rogan’s misinformation campaign, which reaches millions of listeners, has been so dangerous that hundreds of public health officials have signed an open letter asking Spotify to intervene.

And now Young is asking the company to act as well.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he wrote. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

If Spotify chooses Rogan over Young, hopefully Young’s fans – like me – will take a stand along with him. That may mean buying Young’s albums, and it certainly means letting Spotify know that you’re dissatisfied with their decision. And even if Neil Young isn’t in your typical Spotify rotation, this is a good moment to recognize the power artists wield, and to support those who use their platforms for good – even if you never listen to Young’s albums.

Previously, Spotify had taken a harder line on vaccine misinformation, saying “dangerous false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health” was not allowed on its platform. But that statement hardly stands up in the face of Spotify’s giving a platform to and profiting from Rogan and his vaccine misinformation, which poses a direct threat to public health.

It seems unlikely that Spotify would pick Young over one of its biggest cash cows. But it’s still laudable that Young made this statement. Spotify now has a very public problem on its hands, and needs to take a public stand: Are they going to put profits over public health?

How much a streaming platform, like a social media platform, should control what people can say on it is admittedly a difficult question to parse. I typically err on the side of less censorship and more leeway and speech – even for bad or hateful speech.

The Rogan / Spotify situation, though, is less akin to a freewheeling public square than, say, Twitter; there is a business relationship more akin to a traditional media house and its star talent. Rogan isn’t a random person on the internet; he’s a host imbued with the authority of the company that pays for his show. He should be given room to discuss what he wants, even if that offends people who disagree with him politically.

But the company should draw the line at dangerous life-threatening conspiracy theories and the kind of misinformation that could result in unnecessary illness and death.

That’s where Neil Young is drawing the line. Other musicians and podcasters who appear on Spotify should follow suit and use their platforms to tell the company that it does have obligations to the listening public.

The company also has options beyond kicking Rogan off of their platform. They, obviously, don’t want to be a censorship machine, but they could remove episodes that further dangerous untruths, something they’ve already done with Rogan in the past, taking down an episode featuring his interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and another that featured fascist sympathizer Gavin McInnes.

Last year, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek told Axios that, when it comes to regulating what listeners hear, “We have a lot of really well-paid rappers on Spotify too, that make tens of millions of dollars, if not more, each year from Spotify. And we don’t dictate what they’re putting in their songs, either.”

But we’ve always understood that there’s a big difference between artists and musicians, whose crafts have always drawn in elements of fantasy and interpretation, and those like Rogan who claim to speak from a place of expertise and authority. It’s like comparing David Bowie to Walter Cronkite.

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    Not that Rogan is any Cronkite; he’s not a reputable journalist, or a journalist at all. But he hosts an interview show that purports to inform its audience. It’s not billed as fiction or fantasy – it’s not like David Bowie claiming to be Major Tom (no reasonable person would actually believe Bowie was floating around in space).

    Reasonable people, though, may very well believe that when Rogan presents his guests as well-informed experts that they are indeed well-informed experts. Rogan claims his show is an intellectually honest exploration of ideas. The Covid misinformation Rogan is spreading is told as truth. And a startling number of people clearly believe it.

    Spotify should not be able to have it both ways. If Rogan’s podcast is more akin to music than a truthful exploration of ideas featuring serious experts, then the company should categorize it as fiction or fantasy, and make clear to listeners that what they’re hearing is as divorced from reality as Major Tom was from planet Earth.

    Or they should listen to Neil Young, and require that their best-paid and most-popular podcast hosts not pose a direct threat to public health.