By Kayla Ngai
Should Spotify be able to ban content on their platform? Joe Rogan, a podcaster on Spotify, is becoming notorious for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccinations. This has sparked complaints about the app, as people are holding Spotify responsible for not censoring Rogan’s material. Because of many podcasters like Rogan relaying false information, this incited a debate over whether these creators should be banned from the Spotify platform altogether. I believe that misinformation should be taken down from Spotify especially if the false news spreading could potentially be dangerous.
Many doctors have voiced their opinions against Rogan and his podcast. For instance, Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, called Rogan “a menace to public health.” His podcast is detrimental to the community and would inhibit our chances of moving on from the coronavirus. In addition to sharing misinformation, Rogan has been cited discouraging younger people from receiving the vaccine (episode from April 23, 2021). Instead, Rogan promoted Ivermectin — a drug that is not approved by the FDA for both treating and preventing the coronavirus, with little evidence in proving its overall effectiveness.
Multiple celebrities have also come forward to state their stance on the matter. Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have conveyed their feelings of unease about the situation given that they host a podcast on Spotify. They stated, “We have continued to express our concerns to Spotify to ensure changes to its platform are made to help address this public health crisis.” Additionally, many artists have severed their partnership with Spotify to object to the platform’s lack of action with Joe Rogan’s podcast. Among these singers are Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
On January 30th, Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify responded to the outcries. Although he did not explicitly name Joe Rogan, Ek acknowledged: “We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users.” He brought up the question of freedom of expression and censorship, mentioning that there is content on Spotify that he “disagree[s] with strongly.” However, I feel that misinformation about the coronavirus and all related material is not a matter of opinion. One can not disagree or agree with facts. Thus, some information on Spotify should be removed for the good of the public.
Ek laid out the deficiencies of the platform. First, according to him, Spotify does not lay out the platform rules clearly. Second, they have not been doing a sufficient job in making sure accurate information about the pandemic is being spread. I agree with Ek in that Spotify has been lacking in their mission as a service that allows the general public to receive information. They have not been enforcing their guidelines and failed to recognize the harm of false COVID news sooner.
However, to remedy their mistakes, Spotify published their “long-standing platform rules” which come in a variety of languages to make their rules more accessible to a wider audience of creators. They are working on ways to highlight terms, stressing that creators should take accountability for their actions.
Another remedy Spotify is installing is the addition of advisory warnings to podcast episodes containing information about the coronavirus. The platform is also dedicating a COVID-19 Hub to host up-to-date information about the pandemic for viewers.
Although I believe that freedom of speech is very important, there should be a line drawn for misinformation that risks public health. During our current pandemic, it has become important to crack down on the spread of fake news in the media. People are constantly dying and getting sick. Thus, when there is false information being spread, it does not benefit our communities and world in any way. Misinformation is dangerous and can influence people to take harmful actions. Remember when former President Trump advised everyone to inject bleach as a solution against the coronavirus? To state it bluntly, if one were to have followed him, they would most likely be dead.
I think Spotify is heading in the right direction and is doing a good job in trying to mediate the false news. However, they should be more direct and officially remove some podcast episodes that air fake information. Furthermore, we ourselves need to be wary of the content we are consuming and learn how to rely on credible sources. This situation should motivate and prompt other streaming platforms and social media to take further actions in limiting the spread of fake information.