After repeatedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, Joe Rogan and the CEO of Spotify said Sunday night they would address the brewing controversy — by adding some warning labels and with a vague promise to “balance things out.”
Spotify said it was planning to slap a “content advisory” on Rogan’s episodes that include discussions about COVID-19 with links to verified information. (It’s not clear whether the advisory will warn listeners whether the episode promotes junk science or not.) And Rogan said he will try reeeally hard to have guests “with differing opinions” on his show.
“If I pissed you off,” Rogan said in a video posted to his Instagram on Sunday, “I’m sorry.”
In case you missed it (or were wondering why you suddenly couldn't stream Harvest Moon), calls to take action on the streaming platform's top podcast reached a breaking point last week after Neil Young and Joni Mitchell removed their music from Spotify in protest, with some additional artists and podcasters following suit. Online, some Spotify users have said they will boycott the platform and cancel their subscriptions, and have urged more influential artists like Taylor Swift to pull their libraries as well. Spotify lost more than $2 billion in market value over the controversy but began to recover on Monday.
“I realized I could not continue to support Spotify's life threatening misinformation to the music loving public,” Young wrote in a letter explaining his decision. “Spotify has become the home of life threatening COVID misinformation. Lies being sold for money.”
Spotify became the exclusive owner of The Joe Rogan Experience in 2020, after signing a $100 million deal with the host. Rogan, whose podcast is the most popular one on Spotify, has discouraged young people from getting vaccinated, promoted ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, railed against vaccine requirements, and welcomed staunch anti-vaxxers as guests on the show. Earlier this month, hundreds of doctors and scientists signed an open letter calling on Spotify to "take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform."
On Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek addressed the controversy in a statement and said the company would "add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19," which will link to a COVID-19 information hub with "data-driven facts" and "links to trusted sources."
The advisory will be placed on any podcast about the pandemic — regardless of whether it includes factual information or not, the company's statement suggested. Spotify did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Spotify also publicly posted its content policies after they were published Sunday by the Verge, which state that it does not allow "content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health."
Ek did not mention Rogan in his statement — or address why his podcast has not been deemed to violate Spotify’s rules — but said it is important to him "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."
"Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly," Ek said. "We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users."
Rogan responded to the criticism in a 10-minute video on Instagram on Sunday night, in which he did not apologize for spreading misinformation and thanked Spotify “for being so supportive in this time."
Despite widespread consensus among epidemiologists that vaccines are safe and effective, Rogan continued to describe well-established scientific facts about the pandemic as “opinions,” and as such defended his choices in podcast guests as showcasing a "different opinion."
“The problem I have with the term misinformation, especially today, is that many of the things that we thought of as misinformation just a short while ago are now accepted as fact," Rogan said.
He falsely claimed that if, just a few months ago, someone said it was possible to still get COVID after being vaccinated or that cloth masks were ineffective, they "would ban you from certain platforms." What Rogan failed to explain is that pandemic safety guidelines have evolved over time because scientists are learning new information about COVID-19 and recommending the appropriate modifications in real time.
Rogan shirked responsibility for the false information on his show, saying he can’t know whether or not his guests are sharing accurate information "because I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them." He admitted he sometimes gets things wrong, "but I try to correct them."
Earlier this month, Rogan was corrected on his own show, when a guest debunked his false assertion that getting vaccinated puts young men at greater risk of myocarditis than contracting COVID-19 does. Rogan pushed back, obfuscating the details of his claim, and expressed distrust in the expert sources that contradicted his views. He later admitted his comments had made him “look dumb.”
In the future, Rogan said, he will “maybe try harder to get people with differing opinions” on the show right after the guests he described as “the controversial ones.”
“Again, I’m not trying to promote misinformation. I’m not trying to be controversial,” he said. “I never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations.”