Yet the backlash is intensifying. Civil rights groups organize a boycott. Advertisers withdraw their campaigns. A trending hashtag. The employees of the platform threaten to leave. Days later, the CEO is forced to choose between banning a popular creator — and facing the fury of his fans — or being seen as a hypocrite and enabler of dangerous behavior.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because a version of it has occurred on every major Internet media platform for the past half-decade. Facebook and Alex Jones, Twitter and Donald Trump, YouTube and PewDiePie, Netflix and Dave Chappelle: every major platform has found itself trapped, at some point, between that particular rock and the anvil.
Now it’s Spotify’s turn. The audio giant has faced calls for weeks to take action against mega-popular podcast host Joe Rogan after Mr Rogan was accused of promoting Covid-19 misinformation in his broadcast, including hosting a guest who had been banned by Twitter for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. This month, a group of hundreds of medical experts urged Spotify to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation, saying Mr Rogan had a “worrying history” of promoting lies about the virus.
So far, the backlash cycle hits most of the usual notes. Critics compared excerpts from Mr Rogan’s interviews with Spotify’s stated rules, which prohibit material “that promotes harmful, false or misleading content that is dangerous about Covid-19”. Two folk-rock legends, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, led the boycott, pulling their catalogs from Spotify last week in protest at the platform’s decision to back Mr Rogan. Brené Brown, another popular host, quickly followed suit, saying she won’t be posting new episodes of her Spotify-exclusive podcast “until further notice.”
Daniel Ek, chief executive of Spotify, posted the required blog post on Sunday, defending the company’s commitment to free speech and saying “it’s important to me that we don’t embrace the position of content censor”. And while Spotify has refused to take action against Mr Rogan, it has pledged to put advisory warnings on podcast episodes about Covid-19 and direct listeners to a hub full of authoritative health information. .