January 31, 2022
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol
Good morning! Spotify has a Joe Rogan problem, and it looks like it’s taking a page out of Facebook’s playbook to solve it. I’m David Pierce, and I spent most of a snowy weekend listening to the “Mood Booster” playlist on Spotify. It worked pretty well.
If you're going to pay Joe Rogan to make podcasts for your platform, you're eventually going to have to answer for what happens on those podcasts. And yesterday, after days of trying to ignore the issue, Spotify finally had to say something.
Here's a quick catch-up on the Rogan controversy: Spotify paid $100 million to make Rogan's podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, a Spotify exclusive. Since then, Rogan has continued to do what he always did, which is relatively frequently veer into deeply problematic content and misinformation, particularly when it comes to COVID-19. An episode from December was particularly controversial, causing a number of scientific and medical groups to accuse Rogan of "provoking distrust in science and medicine" and to urge Spotify to "mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform."
Spotify published a blog post yesterday that kinda, sorta addressed the issue. Rogan is never mentioned, but Daniel Ek's post did acknowledge that "you've had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is not."
Spotify is in a tough situation here. Moderating audio — on demand on Spotify or live on Greenroom — is hard, especially at scale. And it's even harder when the offending party is your flagship product, the show you spent a fortune to bring onto your platform. Was Spotify ever really going to take Neil Young's side instead of the most popular podcast on its platform?
Still, Ek's response rang hollow to many critics. Whether Spotify has a responsibility to moderate every podcast on its platform is a genuinely interesting question, and one the company should think deeply about especially as it continues to invest in technology that helps it understand what's happening on those shows. But there's less question as to whether Spotify has a responsibility for the shows it pays to produce and promotes aggressively to its hundreds of millions of users.
Spotify is clearly hoping people just move on. This whole thing is reminiscent of the uproar at Netflix over Dave Chappelle's special last year; in that case, Netflix offered similar reassurances, nothing changed and things quieted down. It's certainly clear to Spotify that picking a COVID-19 fight with Rogan and his fans will only make this a bigger story, so it seems to hope that everyone will believe it cares about all this and find something else to worry about.
But the momentum against Spotify seems to still be building. "Delete Spotify" was trending on Twitter for a while, as was #spotifyexodus. Most of all, if other artists join Young in boycotting the service, it could change Spotify's calculus. It definitely needs Rogan more than it needs Young, but what about Ed Sheeran or Drake or Taylor Swift or Adele?
The real takeaway is this: Platforms need rules. Those rules need to be clear, they need to be publicly accessible and they need to be enforced equally across all users and creators. Spotify is, of course, entitled to run its platform however it wants. But if you don't create the rules, explain them and enforce them, you're going to find yourself stuck between your business and your users. And that's not a good place to be.
The changing role of the CIO
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