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Joe Rogan podcast controversy is Spotify’s Facebook moment

Joe Rogan announces the fighters during a ceremonial weigh-in for UFC 264 on July 9, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Spotify has been in hot water over concerns that its popular podcast star Joe Rogan is spreading misinformation about the coronavirus, in a controversy that repeats the crises that Facebook and other social media giants have faced in recent years.

The music streaming platform is being boycotted by legendary musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who have beaten their decision to continue hosting Rogan’s popular podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience”.

Rogan has sparked controversy with allegations that he repeatedly spreads conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and to promote the use of ivermectin – an antiparasitic drug used primarily in animals – to treat coronavirus symptoms, despite warnings about , that there is no evidence that it can be effective in treating Covid.

In December, 270 science and health professionals wrote an open letter accusing Spotify of enabling Covid misinformation and urging the company to take steps to counter false or misleading claims about the virus.

On Saturday, Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, joined the chorus of musicians pulling their music from Spotify over the Rogan controversy.

Spotify said Sunday it would add disclaimers to all podcast episodes that include discussion of Covid, and direct users to public health sites for more information. CEO Daniel Ek said the platform did not want to “take on the position of content censor”, but wanted to ensure that there are consequences for creators who break its rules.

Rogan himself responded to the controversy late Sunday. In an Instagram post, he criticized news media for creating a “distorted perception of what I do”, and defended his decision to interview Dr. Robert Malone, a specialist in infectious diseases, who was banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation about Covid.

He apologized to Spotify, Young and Mitchell and promised to “do my best to try to balance these more controversial views with the perspectives of others.”

“If I p —- dered you, I’m sorry,” he said.

Spotify’s Facebook moment?

The debacle has parallels to the scandals that have plagued Facebook and other tech giants over the years.

Facebook, now called Meta, faced mass boycott from major advertisers in 2020 due to criticism that it did not do enough to tackle hate speech. And a data sharing scandal in 2018 resulted in hundreds of thousands of users sharing the hashtag #deletefacebook in protest of the social networking site.

Meanwhile, YouTube handled its own advertiser boycott in 2017 as a stream of brands pulled ads from the Google-owned video-sharing site over concerns about hateful and offensive content.

So far, Spotify has largely evaded criticism of its content moderation policies. But its push in podcasts and its support for a controversial figure like Rogan has now placed it solidly in the firing line.

For now, the stakeholders leaving Spotify, its creators, are not advertisers. Investors shrugged off the news on Monday as Spotify shares rose about 1% in U.S. pre-market trading.

But the setback over Rogan threatens a key area for growth for the company, which has spent aggressively on podcasts over the past few years with exclusive deals and acquisitions.

Several online platforms, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have been criticized for not combating the spread of Covid misinformation with appropriate content moderation. Many of the companies took steps to remove such material and add labels directing users to information from public health authorities.

However, there is one big difference this time: While Facebook and other platforms have been criticized for allowing toxic material shared by its users, Spotify’s controversy is about a celebrity for which it has paid millions to be the exclusive distributor of their podcasts. The company signed Rogan in 2020 in an exclusive podcasting deal that was reportedly worth $ 100 million.

“The Joe Rogan Experience” is one of the most popular podcasts in the world, topping Spotify’s global rankings for 2021. Rogan has previously claimed that the show is downloaded over 200 million times each month.

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