The controversy surrounding the Spotify and the podcaster Joe Rogan gained another chapter. In recent days, more than 100 episodes of the podcaster’s show have been removed from the platform. But not for the spread of false information about COVID-19, which sparked the controversy. The episodes in question were removed because of racist lines. Despite this, Spotify does not intend to sever ties with Rogan.
Joe Rogan is little known in Brazil, but in the United States, his podcast is widely heard. It is estimated that each episode of his show reaches an average of 11 million listeners. Such popularity made Spotify close a deal to have exclusivity in the distribution of Rogan’s podcast – neither side confirms it, but sources close to the company claim that Spotify paid Rogan about $ 100 million for it.
Rogan garners popularity, but also criticism. He has already been accused, for example, of being sexist in certain episodes of his podcast. But no program has had as much negative impact as the one received by Robert Malone, a scientist who has a denialist stance on COVID-19.
In the episode in question, Malone made several unsubstantiated claims about the disease. Since then, Spotify has been under pressure to take action.
In response, Daniel Ek, the company’s CEO, published a letter promising some changes, but as the problematic episode remains available on the platform, the protests continue to gain strength: artists such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash have removed their music from the platform and there are a movement of users switching from Spotify to other audio streaming services.
Spotify Deletes Rogan Episodes, But For Another Reason
So far, the loss of users does not seem to have reached a significant level. But that does not mean that the situation is calm for Spotify, especially because the reactions against Joe Rogan have intensified. One of them consists of a video that compiles several moments in which the presenter and his guests used racist language in the episodes.
Rogan had to speak up. Via Instagram, he stated that the video was taken out of context and was based on 12 years of conversations. Despite this, he acknowledged the gravity of the problem and apologized for “the most regrettable and shameful thing I have ever said publicly”.
At about the same time, dozens of episodes of Rogan’s podcast were removed from Spotify, by mutual agreement between both parties. One of them is an episode where the podcaster comments on a movie set in a black neighborhood and claims that it’s like they’re on the “Planet of the Apes”.
The number of episodes removed from the platform was not disclosed, but the website JRE Missing (created specifically to monitor content removals from Rogan’s podcast) points out that there were 113, all deleted on February 4th.
Everything indicates that the decision on which episodes to remove was left to Rogan himself.
Spotify Won’t Ban Joe Rogan
Apparently, the controversy over Joe Rogan has Spotify employees worried. In a letter addressed to them, but accessed by the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Ek apologizes for the inconvenience, but makes it clear that, despite everything, he will not ban the podcast from the platform.
Ek acknowledges that Rogan’s lines are “incredibly hurtful” and that they “do not represent the values of this company.” But, for the executive, banning is not the best way to go:
While I strongly condemn Joe’s lines and agree with his decision to remove episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. I want to make one thing clear: I don’t believe silencing Joe is the answer.
We should have clear boundaries around content and take action when those boundaries are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope.
In a conversation between Ek and employees that took place last week and whose audio was obtained by The Verge, the executive says he doesn’t agree with many of Rogan’s statements, but stresses that for Spotify to achieve its goals, it needs to have content “that many of us wouldn’t be proud to get involved”.
In the letter to employees, Ek reveals that the company will spend $100 million on licensing, developing and marketing music and content from historically marginalized groups.
It’s as if he wants to show, with this announcement, that the platform is really committed to having a wide openness to content. But at the end of the day, the impression that remains is that Joe Rogan is too valuable to Spotify, which is the only reason he doesn’t get banned.
With information: Wall Street Journal, Ars Technica, The Verge.