Rogan, Young, and Spotify

Over the last two years, social media has faced increased scrutiny for the information posted on its platforms. In response, Twitter and Facebook started either including links for more information on a subject or removing posts with false information. This past month, the same focus has turned to entertainment streaming platforms via Spotify.

In December, Spotify aired an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast where Dr. Robert Malone discussed Covid vaccines. Dr. Malone claims to be one of the architects of the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines. He is also known for sharing misinformation about Covid-19, which led to the doctor being banned from Twitter.

In this episode of JRE, Dr. Malone claimed that hospitals receive financial incentives to diagnose Covid-19 deaths falsely (that claim had been disproven). He also said people had "mass formation psychosis" as they have been "hypnotized" into getting vaccinated and wearing masks. He also promoted the use of the anti-parasitic horse medication, Ivermectin, although the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings against it.

The Medical Community Reacted

The episode caught the attention of Katrine Wallace. Wallace is an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago's School of Public Health who works with a community of experts to debunk medical misinformation on social media. After the interview, she received hundreds of messages from those who had heard the Malone interview.

"Their friends and family were sending it to them as evidence that the vaccines are dangerous and that they shouldn't get it," she said. "It provides a sense of false balance like there's two sides to the scientific evidence when, really, there is not. The overwhelming evidence is that the vaccines are safe and that they're effective."

"We are in a global health emergency, and streaming platforms like Spotify that provide content to the public have a responsibility not to add to the problem," Wallace said.

Wallace drafted an open letter to Spotify that was signed by 270 doctors, physicians, and science educators, asking the streaming service to take action against this misinformation.

The letter has now been signed by more than a thousand doctors and other experts. It states, "Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications. As scientists, we face backlash and resistance as the public grows to distrust our research and expertise. As educators and science communicators, we are tasked with repairing the public's damaged understanding of science and medicine. As physicians, we bear the arduous weight of a pandemic that has stretched our medical systems to their limits and only stands to be exacerbated by the anti-vaccination sentiment woven into this and other episodes of Rogan's podcast."

The community that signed the letter was not asking Spotify to kick Rogan off the platform. They wanted the company to do more to moderate misinformation, be transparent about the rules of the platform, and create a system of flagging baseless claims. The letter further states, "Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy."

Spotify and Rogan's Initial Position

Last year, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Axios that the company does not take responsibility for Rogan's content. He likened the issue to "really well-paid rappers," saying that Spotify doesn't "dictate what they're putting in their songs, either."

Initially, Rogan defended both the Malone episode and a troublesome earlier interview with Dr. Peter McCullough. "Both these people are very highly credentialed, very intelligent, and very accomplished people, and they have an opinion that's different from the mainstream narrative. I wanted to hear what their opinion is." He continued, "I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial. I've never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people, and have interesting conversations."

Neil Young and Other Musicians Pull Out

Neil Young became aware of Wallace's letter and posted an open letter on his website (since deleted) where he asked his management and record label to remove his music from Spotify. "I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them." The letter also stated, "Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the frontline health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others." He continued with a now-famous quote, "They can have Rogan or Young. Not both."

After the initial letter was deleted, Young posted another open letter on his website thanking his record label and management for backing him in his request to remove all of his music from the platform. In the second letter, he added another jab at Spotify, "It is this: many other platforms, Amazon, Apple, and Qobuz, to name a few, present my music today in all its High-Resolution glory - the way it is intended to be heard, while unfortunately SPOTIFY continues to peddle the lowest quality in music reproduction."

Young's protest was backed by Edros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General, who stated, "We all have a role to play to end this pandemic and infodemic."

A few days after Young pulled his music, Joni Mitchell posted a message on her website. "I've decided to remove all my music from Spotify. Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue."

Nils Lofgren, musician and longtime friend of Young, also posted an open letter on Young's website. In it, he states, "When these heroic women and men who've spent their lives healing and saving ours cry out for help, you don't turn your back on them for money and power. You listen and stand with them. As I write this letter, we've now gotten the last 27 years of my music taken off Spotify." He also put a call out to other musicians to "pick up your sword and start swinging."

Author Brené Brown said on Twitter that "I will not be releasing any podcasts until further notice. To our UnlockingUs and DaretoLead communities, I'm sorry and I will let you know if and when that changes. Stay awkward, brave, and kind." While some of the replies to the tweet accused Brown of squelching free speech, user Trev E. Trev, came to her defense, saying, "It's exactly how free speech works. She isn't legally preventing someone else from speaking. She is reacting to someone else's speech by exercising her own—the freedom not to associate with particular ideas is an essential part of free speech."

Rogan Responds

Rogan responded with a video in which he said, "I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial. I've never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people, and have interesting conversations." Yet, he admitted, "I don't know what else I can do differently other than maybe try harder to get people with different opinions on right afterward," adding that he will try to balance out these controversial viewpoints.

Rogan has also said he has "no hard feelings towards Neil Young and definitely no hard feelings towards Joni Mitchell."

Spotify Posts New Rules

On January 30th, Daniel Ek responded to the controversy. He stated, "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." Ek admitted that the company hadn't been transparent about the platform policies of what is and is not acceptable. Ek continued, "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." Then, he said, "We've heard you – especially those from the medical and scientific communities." And he laid out Spotify's action plan. Spotify then posted the official platform rules addressing dangerous content, deceptive content and more. Content may be removed if the rules are broken, and repeat offenders may have their account suspended or terminated. This page also has a link to report an issue.

Migrating a Music Library to Another Service

For those who would like to leave their music streaming service for another platform and not lose their playlists and favorited albums, offers a conversion service. If you have a lot of songs in your library, you can choose the $4.50 monthly option and cancel once the songs have been migrated to the service of your choice.

funambulistic's picture

... horse medication, Ivermectin"

And just like that, your own misinformation renders your entire article invalid.

Now, I'm anxiously counting the seconds until the open minded mods at S&V delete this comment.

TowerTone's picture

Was sorry to see an article like this pollute the site.
Of course I'm not asking for it to be removed, that's the entire problem with the article....

Moonraker's picture

Ivermectin comes in two forms: veterinary and human. In both cases it is used to treat parasitic infection. It is not inaccurate to state that is is "horse medication" because this is true and its use in treating parasites in horses is common. What is sometimes missed in referring to the medication in horses is that veterinary grade ivermectin was, and may still be, sought by people because it is easier to obtain in that form than in the form used on people.

TowerTone's picture

...anyone who has actually WATCHED the podcast would know this, along with a slew of other information that apparently is forbidden.

Is everything true they talked about? Probably not, but do they claim it is or are they just DISCUSSING IDEAS?

What I DON'T understand is why some from the 60s counterculture now support whatever the government says while stifling other ideas.

I guess maybe they never really meant all that stuff they sang about 50 years ago....

James.Seeds's picture

I'm a fan of Neil Young but lately the dude has shown little tolerance for opposing views, pulling your catalog because you disagree with an opinion sounds a bit juvenile like a kid in a sandbox extracting oneself with the plastic shovel and bucket. Seems like everybody wants blood these days. I say let him pull his music, it's not like most people don't have a great hits in their collection anyway. What is he going to chirp about next that Joe eats meat?

funambulistic's picture

... of Neil is it? He (and his ilk) have become the modern day equivalent of Tipper Gore. Wonder what Zappa would say about all this...

brenro's picture

Telling people vaccines alter genes, Invermectin cures Covid, getting vaccinated after getting Covid increases your risk of harmful side effects, and telling young people they are at higher risk to their health from the vaccine than they are from the virus isn't free speech. It's spreading wrong and dangerous misinformation. Dumbshits like Joe Rogan should be accepted about as much as we should be banning books. Is there no limit to the stupidity in this country?

John_Werner's picture

The Joe Rogan Experience, at least for my tastes, is entertainment. It's not a thoroughly researched and peer vetted hard science white paper. It does do one thing quite well and that is to have guests who the mass media often purposely shun or disparage in a conversational format with the open-minded, yet often polarizing in opinion, host. So what's so evil and wrong here? Is just hearing a view that may be opposite of a particular group, maybe even without scientific proof, something that should be silenced? I thought the ethos of rock and roll was to question everything while allowing free speech among our many other freedoms. Anyone who goes to Rogan for their sole truths on anything is ignorant and missing the point of free speech and a show that is primarily for one's entertainment at the end of the day. I hardly ever agree with anything Bill Maher pushes on his show. But I like his passion and he's certainly not anyone's stooge. He entertains me and a few time surprises me with something unexpected. I would never unsubscribe from HBO just based on the many things Maher and I disagree on. Without differences of opinions the public dumbs down plain and simple. Mostly I just think Rogan should not be censored and people should educate themselves to all available view points. As for Neil Young I think he too has his right to voice his opinion. He just chose to attempt to silence Rogan and that is somewhat hard-headed, even a bit repugnant.

brenro's picture

The opinions of racist bigots becoming acceptable, even popular, is how the Nazis came to power.

jeff-henning's picture

...You might as well be getting all of your news from Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Don't know what the ratings for Joe's Spotify channel are. Maybe a couple hundred thousand people at best?

I'm highly doubtful that JR's show is going to cause much of a public health problem. That being said, if he really had it together, Joe should have booked a non-crackpot scientist on the same show. That could have been entertaining, but seems to have never occurred to Joe or the show's staff.

This really is a tempest in a teapot. I doubt any of this will have any impact on any of the parties involved.

As a PR stunt, kudos. When do any of them get news coverage at all anymore?

Final point: after reading the article, I couldn't really find any bias. So, to a few posters, properly sourced facts and quotes are not opinions or fake news.

Jonasandezekiel's picture

Isn’t it the Washington Post that says “democracy dies in darkness”? And yet, the author and several others on here thrive on a monopoly of opinion. How ironic.

Stosh's picture

It would seem many people here are posting comments that are directed by their biases, not on facts. Be that as it may, since their minds are locked, I would at least advise people to try to understand Neil Young's motives here.

He contracted polio as a child, before the vaccine for it was available. He had to learn to walk all over again, and still suffers from effects of the disease.

He also has a son with cerebral palsy. Over the years he has been flooded by people encouraging him to try bogus "cures" for the disease, based on the same kinds of falsehoods that are spread about the COVID vaccine and treatments.

Given that, I think it is understandable that he would be upset that falsehoods are being spread widely regarding COVID, the vaccine, and the absurd cures being promoted for it. You may or may not agree with his stance, but I think people should at least acknowledge his experiences that led him to his decision to be removed from Spotify.

Jonasandezekiel's picture

No, he is still behaving like a typical spoiled and out of touch lefty, in lock step with all his friends.

mungus's picture

so now my favorite place to go and escape all the bs in the world has sadly become just another talking head publication. sadly and simply goodbye S&V and Stereophile...i will not be renewing my subscriptions.

SpotcheckBilly's picture

Mr.Young and Ms.Mitchell (and their lefty buddies) have now made themselves irrelevant. I didn't come here to listen to the political
rantings from has-beens. If this crap continues you'll be commenting on your own articles 'cause nobody else wants to hear it. These washed-up nobodies should all go back to Laurel Canyon and do the right thing. Continue with this BS and many of your former readers will be gone.

Slardybardfast's picture

I get my politics from political news websites. I don't want to see them in my audio newsletter. Stop It.

kps80's picture

I get my politics from political news websites. I don't want to see them in my audio newsletter. Stop It. I miss reading Stereo Review. The fact that this was even posted shows the future of Sound and Vision. When my current subscription ends, it will not be renewed. I'll get my information on my own from the internet.

3ddavey13's picture

Wow! It doesn't take much to get people worked up these days. I wonder if it's controversial to say I prefer to buy music rather than stream it?
For what it's worth, as a Sr. Research Scientist with 30 years of experience in Medicinal Chemistry I can tell you Ivermectin completely kills the Covid virus. The reasons for it not being promoted as a viable treatment are mainly twofold. The most important reason is by the time the patient is diagnosed, neurological or other physiological damage may have already occurred. The best way to prevent or minimize this from happening is getting vaccinated. The second reason is Ivermectin has been off-patent for several years, preventing pharmaceutical companies from making huge profits on it. For those who choose not to get the vaccine, check out Birds Aren't Real. It's right up your alley.

Mankuro's picture

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