Joe Rogan dispute shows Spotify limits of being hands off

Feb 8, 2022, 8:03 AM | Updated: Feb 9, 2022, 2:20 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Like Facebook and Twitter, Spotify is learning the limits of deflecting responsibility for what is said on its platform.

Podcasting has sprouted as an industry with few standards about policing offensive or misleading content. That has left Spotify trying to figure out how to keep podcaster Joe Rogan’s millions of devoted fans happy without further alienating artists and listeners angry about him amplifying vaccine skeptics and using racial slurs.

Spotify wants to be viewed as a technology platform that has limited liability for the material that others create and stream through its service — a position shared by many social-media companies. But experts say that is difficult to defend after Spotify reportedly spent $100 million to become the sole distributor of “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

“They are acting like they should get treated as a platform — when they are acting like a media company,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor and an expert on social media. “You can’t have it every way you want.”

In an effort to expand scrutiny beyond musicians and listeners, folk-rock singer Neil Young urged Spotify employees late Monday to quit “before it eats up your soul.” Last week, Young pulled his music from Spotify after a group of doctors called out Rogan for his interview of a man who has spread COVID-19 misinformation.

After musician India.Arie revealed last week on Instagram that Rogan had repeatedly used the N-word, he apologized, and Spotify pulled dozens of past episodes from circulation. But Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek, has said that silencing him is not the answer.

Besides, Ek said in a letter to employees late Sunday, Spotify is not the publisher of “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

“But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise,” Ek said. “So I’ve been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values.”

As it does with music streaming, Spotify dominates podcasting. It has 44% of all podcast user market share — Apple, Amazon and Google are each less than half its size, according to Midia Research.

Podcast platforms have long struggled to moderate the shows broadcast on them. They have not followed the steps of other tech companies like Facebook or Twitter that attempt to detect, fact-check and label misleading or false information.

Meta, which owns Facebook, has enlisted the help of journalists, academics, thousands of contract employees and AI technology to detect misinformation. Even then, misinformation around politics and COVID-19 find big audiences in Facebook groups, on WhatsApp messages and Instagram.

Major podcast companies have largely escaped scrutiny about misinformation. Instead, they have taken down individual podcasts that get bad press for violating stated policies or spreading conspiracy theories. That has resulted in a messy patchwork of shows that have been banned on some tech platforms but are readily available elsewhere.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is banned from Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook — but not Google Podcasts.

Spotify, YouTube and Twitter kicked off Steve Bannon after he suggested Dr. Anthony Fauci should be beheaded. But you can still hear Bannon on Apple Podcasts.

Podcasts are difficult to moderate, said Valerie Wirtschafter, a data analyst at the Brookings Institute who has researched misinformation on the popular ones. They can run anywhere from 20 minutes to hours, and there are millions of episodes about everything from serial killers to cooking to politics.

“That is an unwieldy world,” Wirtschafter said.

Spotify has said that it takes down podcasts that violate its policies against hate speech and break laws. The company publicly revealed its guidelines for the first time following questions raised by Young’s action, and said it would add content advisories regarding COVID-19.

When companies start paying content creators, as Spotify does with Rogan and as other platforms do with other high-profile influencers, that can change the game. Facebook last summer announced a $1 billion fund for creators, wading further into “media company” territory even as it tries to shed that moniker.

Spotify “had to make a decision that other social media companies are well acquainted with,” said Jared Schroeder, a First Amendment scholar and associate professor at Southern Methodist University. “They were drawn into the war. I don’t know if there’s any going back for them.”

Rogan has particular appeal to conservative listeners, but by no means exclusively so. He endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. Like another popular media figure, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, he often portrays himself as someone who is simply asking uncomfortable questions — and he’s most upsetting to people who don’t listen to him regularly.

Spotify is caught between artists and customers upset enough by Rogan’s language to quit the service, and the many fans who would claim him as a victim of “cancel culture” if the company were to make the expensive decision to cut him loose.

“Ultimately, this comes down to the issue of political polarization and how the big tech is caught up in the country’s culture wars,” said Weiai Xu, a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Spotify risks sending a chilling message to other podcasters that the company won’t have their back if it backs away from Rogan, besides putting a severe dent in its business plan.

“If Spotify ends up having to backtrack on Joe Rogan there’s a risk it’ll be seen as backtracking on podcasts,” said Mark Mulligan, managing director of Midia Research.

Spotify’s Ek said it could take months to know the impact of the controversy on the company. The market research firm Forrester polled people on Feb. 1 and found that most Spotify users had no intention of cancelling their subscription, but there were many who considered it.


Associated Press reporters Tali Arbel, Marcy Gordon, Matt O’Brien, Barbara Ortutay and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

A roof over their head: Churches use tiny homes for homeless

Churches across the U.S. are tackling the big question of how to address homelessness in their communities with a small solution: tiny homes. On vacant plots near their parking lots and steepled sanctuaries, congregations are building everything from fixed and fully contained micro homes to petite, moveable cabins, and several other styles of small-footprint dwellings […]
6 hours ago
Flowers are left at the scene of a shooting in central Oslo, Saturday, June 25, 2022. Norwegian pol...
Associated Press

Norway terror alert raised after deadly mass shooting

OSLO, Norway (AP) — The Norwegian security service PST has raised its terror alert to the highest level after a mass shooting left 2 people dead and many wounded during Pride week in Oslo. Acting PST chief Roger Berg called the shootings an “extreme Islamist terror act.” He said the gunman, who was arrested shortly […]
6 hours ago
In this combo photo, protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 20...
Associated Press

Three months of waiting, and finally a Supreme Court ruling

Follow the links in this story to recent AP coverage about abortion over the last three months. ___ And so the interminable wait after the leak of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade has come to an end — nearly three months in which abortion and all of its complexities have been have been hashed […]
6 hours ago
With tear gas in the air, a large number of police surround the Arizona Capitol after protesters re...
Associated Press

Police at Arizona Capitol fire tear gas, disperse protesters

PHOENIX (AP) — Police fired tear gas to disperse anti-abortion demonstrators from outside the Arizona Capitol Friday night, forcing lawmakers to huddle briefly in a basement inside the building as they rushed to complete their 2022 session. Thousands of protesters had gathered earlier on the Capitol grounds in Phoenix, divided into groups both supporting and […]
6 hours ago
Jay Walker, third from left, co-founder of Gays Against Guns, speaks into a megaphone during a rall...
Associated Press

To some defenders, gun ruling could right a racial wrong

NEW YORK (AP) — When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s tight restrictions on who can carry a handgun, condemnation erupted from liberal leaders and activists. But some public defenders, often allies of progressive activists, praised the court’s ruling, saying gun-permitting rules like New York’s have long been a license for racial discrimination. […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Rhode Island Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Andrew Bates pulls up tape marking a line at a c...
Associated Press

Army Guard troops risk dismissal as vaccine deadline looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers across the country — or about 13% of the force — have not yet gotten the mandated COVID-19 vaccine, and as the deadline for shots looms, at least 14,000 of them have flatly refused and could be forced out of the service. Guard soldiers have […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Joe Rogan dispute shows Spotify limits of being hands off