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Spotify responds after Joni Mitchell and others join Neil Young and demand the platform remove their content


An earlier version of this article referred to a drop of more than $2 billion in Spotify’s “market share.” The Variety article cited referred to a drop in market capitalization of that amount. This story has been corrected.

Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, podcaster Brené Brown and more are standing up to Spotify for allowing Joe Rogan to keep airing coronavirus misinformation. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Spotify broke its silence on Sunday and announced slight changes to its policies around content concerning covid-19, after facing a week of criticism for allowing its creators — particularly podcaster Joe Rogan — to spread misinformation about the pandemic.

“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 CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a news release. “We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly.”

The new changes include publicly publishing the company’s internal rules for what is allowed on the platform, “testing ways to highlight” those rules to its creators and “working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19.”

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek wrote. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

The controversy began last week, when rocker Neil Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his music be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on the platform. He singled out Rogan, who hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, as part of his issue with Spotify, writing: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, Spotify began the process of pulling Young’s music, saying in a statement that they “regret” Young’s decision “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Days later, others began joining Young. “I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify,” eight-time Grammy-winning songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote in a statement on her website on Friday. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

Nils Lofgren, the frontman of rock band Grin and a member of both Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, wrote in a statement on Young’s website that he would “cut ties with Spotify” and urged “all musicians, artists and music lovers everywhere” to do the same. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who hosts the “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead” podcasts on Spotify, tweeted Saturday that she “will not be releasing any podcasts until further notice,” though she did not say why. Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who have a deal to host and produce Spotify podcasts, expressed “concerns” in a statement released Sunday.

Folk rocker David Crosby, a former bandmate of Young’s, tweeted that he would remove his music from the service, but “I no longer control it or I would in support of Neil.” That’s true for many rock stars lately, who could deal a blow to the streaming service if they hadn’t sold their entire catalogues already for large sums.

Others, including Howard Stern and “The View” host Joy Behar, have argued that while they don’t agree with Rogan, they don’t think the platform should remove his podcast, equating such a move to censorship.

The resulting fallout, according to Variety, found Spotify’s market capitalization falling more than $2 billion last week.

Spotify’s newly published platform rules shed light on why Rogan — who has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated; praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-covid benefits; and invited prominent conspiracy theorists onto his show — has not been heavily penalized.

The rules include disallowing “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” such as asserting that covid-19 is a hoax or “promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.”

Rogan doesn’t quite do any of that. He often argues that he’s merely asking questions and has insisted that he’s “not anti-vax.” And he’s particularly skilled at insulating himself from criticism by arguing that he knows nothing, so he can’t tell anyone anything. “I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

Read more:

Why did Spotify choose Joe Rogan over Neil Young? Hint: It’s not a music company.