Spotify’s growing pains continue to ache as fallout from the Joe Rogan versus Neil Young COVID-19 misinformation debacle rumbles on.
Spotify’s problems became turbocharged when legendary musician Neil Young accused the company of spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines through its most popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. Young said Spotify was profiting from misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, leaving the music streaming service with a stark choice: it’s me or Joe Rogan. Spotify chose Rogan, forcing Young to remove his body of work from the platform.
A number of other prominent artists have since followed suit. One of the first to step up was iconic singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell who said she made the decision because “irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives.” Young’s former bandmates, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, tweeted they would join him in ditching Spotify due to "dangerous disinformation being aired on Spotify's Joe Rogan podcast.” Nils Lofgren, a guitarist in Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, has also made a similar choice to remove his catalog of music.
Spotify responded to criticism by adding a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes any discussion about COVID-19. The advisory will direct listeners to a COVID-19 hub that will provide them with authoritative sources and links, the company said. Meanwhile, Joe Rogan took to Instagram to issue a lengthy statement, concluding he will “do his best” to balance controversial viewpoints with other perspectives.
“If I piss you off, I'm sorry and if you enjoyed the podcast, thank you,” Rogan added.
However, it’s unclear how successful this damage-control has been. This week, the streaming giant forecast current quarter subscribers lower than Wall Street expectations in the wake of controversy, resulting in the company's shares falling as much as 18 percent in after-hours trading, Reuters reports. Spotify’s bosses seem to be hoping this is just a brief hiccup, claiming it’s too early to fully know the scale of the damage.
"Usually when we've had controversies in the past, those are measured in months, not days," Spotify's chief executive Daniel Ek reportedly said at a company meeting. “But I feel good about where we are in relation to that and top-line trends look healthy still.”
Ek also added: “There are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive,” according to the Verge. However, the company said that it does not have editorial control over any content creators, claiming the streaming service is merely a platform with zero influence over the content before it's posted, as opposed to a publisher who has a responsibility to control the content.
Some, however, believe the relationship with Rogan is a bit more complicated than that. After all, Spotify signed a $100 million deal with Rogan — who averages a massive 11 million viewers per episode — for the exclusive rights to his podcast in 2020.