Daniel Ek responds to Neil Young’s Joe Rogan protest – but Spotify won’t delete controversial podcast episode


You might just have noticed over the past few days that Spotify has been under heavy fire from one or two cultural titans.

Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have both pulled their music off the platform in reaction to what they deem to be Spotify’s spread of “deadly misinformation” over Covid-19 vaccines.

Young’s actions were triggered by a recently published open letter from hundreds of medical professionals, urging Spotify to delete vaccine-related misinformation from its service.

That letter particularly attacked an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, published on December 31, in which Dr. Robert Malone made a series of controversial and widely disputed claims about the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I first learned of this problem by reading that 200-plus doctors had joined forces, taking on the dangerous, life-threatening COVID falsehoods found in Spotify programming,” Neil Young wrote in a statement last week.

He added: “Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading, and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable, and easy to swing to the wrong side of the truth. These young people believe Spotify would never present grossly unfactual information. They unfortunately are wrong. I knew I had to try to point that out.”

Spotify is reported to have paid around $100 million to lock down a multi-year exclusive deal with the Joe Rogan podcast – a tie-up it announced in 2020.

Today (January 30), Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek published an open letter in response to the criticisms his company has been receiving over its hosting of content that some say spreads dangerous falsehoods about Covid-19.

The letter contains news of a couple of significant changes to Spotify’s content policy – but it stops short of any mention of deleting episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience, including the show that contained the interview with Dr. Malone.

Ek says that he accepts that Spotify has “an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time”.

Amongst the remedies mentioned by Ek is a set of “long-standing Platform Rules” on Spotify for audio content, as well as the addition of Facebook/Twitter-style “content advisories” being added to any podcast that includes a discussion about Covid-19.

Read Daniel Ek’s new open letter (first published here) in full below.

A decade ago, we created Spotify to enable the work of creators around the world to be heard and enjoyed by listeners around the world. To our very core, we believe that listening is everything. Pick almost any issue and you will find people and opinions on either side of it.

Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly. We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users. 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.

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. 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. This, in turn, led to questions around their application to serious issues including COVID-19.

Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex. We’ve heard you – especially those from the medical and scientific communities – and are taking the following steps:

  • Today we are publishing our long-standing Platform Rules. These policies were developed by our internal team in concert with a number of outside experts and are updated regularly to reflect the changing safety landscape. These are rules of the road to guide all of our creators—from those we work with exclusively to those whose work is shared across multiple platforms. You can now find them on our newsroom, and they’ll live permanently on the main Spotify website. They are being localized into various languages to help our users understand how Spotify assesses all content on our platform.
  • We are working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub, a resource that provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources. This new effort to combat misinformation will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days. To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform.
  • We will also begin testing ways to highlight our Platform Rules in our creator and publisher tools to raise awareness around what’s acceptable and help creators understand their accountability for the content they post on our platform. This is in addition to the terms that creators and publishers agree to governing their use of our services.

I want you to know that from the very first days of the pandemic, Spotify has been biased toward action. We launched a variety of educational resources and campaigns to raise awareness and we developed and promoted a global COVID-19 Information Hub. We donated ad inventory to various organizations for vaccine awareness, funds to the World Health Organization and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to increase vaccine equity and supported the Go Give One fundraising campaign. And we established a music relief project to support the creative community. While this is not a complete list, I hope it gives you a sense of how seriously we’ve approached the pandemic as a company.

I trust our policies, the research and expertise that inform their development, and our aspiration to apply them in a way that allows for broad debate and discussion, within the lines. We take this seriously and will continue to partner with experts and invest heavily in our platform functionality and product capabilities for the benefit of creators and listeners alike. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are committed to learning, growing and evolving.

DanielMusic Business Worldwide