Amidst the ongoing scandal surrounding Covid-19 misinformation on the Joe Rogan Experience and allegations of racism, both Joe Rogan and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek have issued apologies for the content on the podcast.
The company has now deleted over 113 episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast. Here’s what happened in the Spotify-Joe Rogan saga so far:
Joe Rogan and Covid-19 misinformation
In an episode of Rogan’s podcast released on December 31, virologist Dr Robert Malone espoused many false beliefs, including the claim that the efficacy of vaccines is due to “mass formation psychosis”. The virologist, who claims to be one of the inventors of mRNA technologies, was previously banned from Twitter for spreading Covid-19 misinformation. Over 270 doctors sent an open letter to Spotify over the episode, referring to to the Joe Rogan Experience as a “menace to public health”.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter said.
On January 24, Canadian American singer Neil Young threatened to pull his music from the platform if they didn’t remove the Joe Rogan Experience from their platform. Singer Joni Mitchell also threatened to remove her music from the platform.
Spotify releases details on ‘Covid-19 policy’
The controversy forced Spotify’s hand to release its content policy regarding Covid-19 on 30 January. It revealed that it has rules in place to stop harmful messages regarding the pandemic. But it will only take action against creators if the content falls into two categories: it either has to assert that the pandemic is a hoax, or it has to be content that encourages people to get infected deliberately.
Seemingly exploiting a loophole in its own policy, the platform decided not to take any action against Joe Rogan. Most social media platforms employ a combination of soft and hard remedies to address misinformation. YouTube and Twitter have a strike system where content creators get a scale of penalties based on the number of times their content violates policy.
This responsive regulation approach advocates using soft remedies before escalating to more permanent measures, including termination of accounts. It can be well suited for dealing with misinformation “superspreaders”, which is important, considering a recent report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which held that 12 people are responsible for up to 73 per cent of the disinformation on social media platforms.
In his initial defence of the podcast and Spotify’s lack of action, Daniel Ek had claimed that the company was a combination of a publisher and a platform in what seemed like a bid to absolve it of any responsibility for the content it hosts. However, many have pointed out that Spotify cannot escape responsibility for the content, given it is paying some of the hosts millions of dollars. In Rogan’s case, the deal is worth $100 million.
In terms of content moderation, Spotify began to take an approach similar to Facebook, focusing its efforts on labelling content with warnings and directing users to information hubs instead of taking concrete action against creators.
Allegations of racism and deletion of episodes
After surviving Young’s decision and its fallout seemingly unfazed, Rogan’s podcast found itself mired in another controversy when a compilation of clips of Rogan using a racial slur during his podcast went viral.
Unlike the previous controversy, the former UFC fighter couldn’t really duck and swerve from this one. After agreeing to delete some of the offending episodes, the controversial host uploaded a five-minute-long apology video on Instagram on Saturday.
“It is a video made of clips taken out of context of me from 12 years of my podcast, and it looks…horrible, even to me. There is no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word. Never mind publicly on a podcast,” Rogan can be heard conceding in the video.
He also tried to downplay the incident saying that the whole story was not ‘racist’, though admitting that it was “an idiotic thing to say.”
Spotify CEO’s memo to staff
On Monday, February 7, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek addressed the latest issue in a memo he sent to company staff, “There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way the Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you. Not only are some of Joe Rogan’s comments incredibly hurtful – I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company”.
However, Ek did also clarify that Spotify will not be deplatforming the creator who reportedly has a licensing deal with the company.
“I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but cancelling videos is a slippery slope,” he said. He also announced a commitment from Spotify to invest $100 million towards producing and marketing music and audio content from marginalised groups.
Rumble and other alternative platforms
Meanwhile, Canadian online video platform Rumble threw its hat into the ring yesterday when it offered $100 million to Joe Rogan for bringing his content onto their platform.
“We stand with you, your guests, and your legion of fans in desire for real conversation. So we’d like to offer you a 100 million reasons to make the world a better place,” said Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski in his open letter to Rogan posted on Twitter by Rumble’s handle.
“How about you bring all your shows to Rumble, both old and new, with no censorship, for $100 million bucks over four years,” it said. So clearly, there are a lot of platforms or publishers who would jump at the chance of attracting Rogan’s 11 million listeners.