Spotify’s new COVID-19 content advisory policy in response to consumer backlash against the prevalence of misinformation on the platform highlights a need for a more balanced solution to protect user rights and content integrity.
Much of the criticism was rightfully directed at the platform’s star podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. On Jan. 31, Rogan released an apology video, stating he isn’t an expert, never wanted to spread misinformation, and only strove to discuss opinions “different from the mainstream narrative”.
But COVID-19 misinformation isn’t just an opinion—it’s an issue of public health and safety. Stating that COVID-19 is mild and vaccines are unnecessary is threatening the health of immunocompromised people and other vulnerable populations.
Moreover, Rogan was cited for extensively using racial slurs, ableist language, and other damaging topics, for which over 70 of his episodes were removed from the platform late last week.
As a podcast host, Rogan must acknowledge the impact his words have on his audience, and he must claim ownership of his content. Having millions of listeners is a privilege—and having the power to influence that many opinions comes with the responsibility of producing accurate, responsible content.
If an entertainer claims not to be an expert in a vital topic like medicine, they shouldn’t promote an uneducated view of that field. If Rogan doesn’t receive pushback against his current irresponsible stance towards misinformation he won’t change his methods—and he’ll continuing to produce more harmful, racist, and ableist content.
After investing more than $100 million in Rogan’s podcast, it’s unlikely Spotify will completely drop his content from its platform. But it should still be Spotify’s responsibility to monitor the messages it’s platforming.
Simply putting a content advisory label on controversial episodes is a weak solution to a much grander problem—although it’s better than nothing.
However, there’s a very fine boundary between eliminating misinformation and restricting one’s opinions. Completely banning Rogan’s podcast may give a green light to remove content with a less lenient view.
Strict censorship may also force harmful messages into virtual environments that have far less potential easily regulated—a dangerous migration that could leave consumers more vulnerable to misinformation. The right to access content and to express ideas is important, but careful monitoring is necessary to avoid the spread of harmful messaging.
Currently, regulation laws for streaming services haven’t caught up with technological progress and the strong consumer demand for knowledge. And it shouldn’t be up to artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to sound the alarm.
Rogan must learn his lesson, but the conversation shouldn’t stop there.
Streaming services must create tangible policies for fostering a safe environment on their platforms. They must educate users about the consequences of accessing sensitive or controversial content.
Streaming information for public use is a powerful ability—it’s time that power is used responsibly.
—Journal Editorial Board
Joe Rogan, misinformation, streaming platforms
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