Amid Joe Rogan fallout, is Spotify doing enough to counter health misinformation?


Facebook, YouTube and Netflix have all had their share of controversies over the often misunderstood notion of free speech, particularly in the context of health and vaccine misinformation. Now it’s Spotify’s turn.

Last weekend, musician Neil Young announced he would be removing his music from Spotify in protest at the platform’s support of Joe Rogan, who has come under fire for stoking vaccine skepticism on his hugely popular podcast. Since then, several other musicians, including Joni Mitchell and India Ariefollowed suit.

The controversy has reopened questions about what role major media platforms should play in combating health misinformation – and whether they should be doing more to stem the spread of inaccurate or misleading content.

In response to the Rogan backlash, Spotify posted new platform rules around misinformation. Content subject to removal includes claims that COVID-19 isn’t real or that vaccines were designed to cause death, as well as content encouraging people to get infected with the virus to boost their immunity. .

Jonathan Brady, Director of Group Engagement at FCB Health New York, called the rules a first step in the right direction. He stressed, however, that reporting misinformation only goes so far.

“Putting that policy out there is a good step,” Brady noted. “But there’s still the problem that Spotify hasn’t solved, which is that the interview is out there. Rogan has a history of pushing not necessarily misinformation, but skepticism and confusion. It can be just as deadly in a public health crisis.”

The issue has caught the attention of the federal government, with President Biden calling out Facebook for “killing people” with COVID-19 misinformation. Democrats have pushed for legislation it would remove liability protections from tech companies complicit in the dissemination of inaccurate medical information. In September, YouTube stepped up its fight against inaccurate vaccine-related content by banning television channels. well-known disinformation spreaders.

But Spotify comes under fire for an entirely different reason: Rogan’s podcast is Spotify content, not user-generated material. Of the society $100 million license agreement with Rogan makes him the highest paid contributor on the platform. The podcast itself ranked as the most popular podcast on Spotify in 2021.

“The distance between the platform and the person is compressed, because there’s a high-paying relationship there,” Brady noted. “Is the disclaimer sufficient? Not really, because in that case you can create a policy that allows a big enough loophole for your highest paying talents to slip through.

The podcast episode that sparked the backlash featured Robert Malone, a vaccine scientist who has been seen as a major spreader of vaccine misinformation – to the extent that he was banned from Twitter. Rogan responded with a 10-minute video posted on Spotify, during which he admitted he could do more to balance his episodes.

“I don’t know what else I can do differently, other than maybe try harder to get people with different opinions right after,” Rogan said in the video. “And do my best to make sure that I have researched these topics, especially the controversial ones, and have all the relevant facts at hand before discussing them.”

“I’m not trying to promote misinformation. I’m not trying to be controversial,” he added. “I never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations.”

This is one of Rogan’s frequent lines and a line of reasoning often used by supporters of free speech. But Brady said Rogan — and Spotify — have a higher responsibility for stemming conversations with potentially dangerous intent.

“The nature of human conversation and idea generation is basically infinite,” Brady explained. “If someone’s intention is to propagate racist beliefs, you can say, ‘Don’t say these 10 things. But the language is malleable enough for you to find your way around.

“Ultimately, Spotify needs to protect its brand and satisfy its customers that it aligns with their core values, and adopt an editorial approach as well as a policy,” he continued. “It’s the only way for them to get out of this mess in the long run.”

Bre Thomlison, Managing Director of real chemistryThe integrated media team at , agreed that Spotify should prioritize brand safety.

“We’re still at a point where brands are controlling the narrative,” she said. “You can compare it to gun issues, where you’ve seen Walmart rise. It’s only a matter of time before digital platforms do the same for health-related fields.

Thomlison noted that Spotify could take a number of steps to stem the flow of misinformation, such as hiring fact checkers. Warnings about vaccine skepticism could also be noted by the hosts themselves.

“As marketers, we’re required to put disclaimers on all of our content,” Thomlison said. “Joe Rogan should say, ‘It’s for entertainment,’ because he’s very influential.”

If Spotify chooses not to impose more editorial control on its podcast hosts and content creators, the company could attempt to amplify the voices of more public health leaders, the medical director of WebMD. Dr. John Whyte. This could be paired with a goal of helping credible health officials communicate more effectively — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for one, has struggling during the pandemic.

“Wouldn’t it be great if Spotify helped these public health leaders become better communicators? said Whyte. “They could create a podcast with some experts, like the Surgeon General, or help the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services create a podcast. This would go a long way in combating misinformation. »

“The approach should be more focused on Spotify and others who try to give the experts a voice and help them understand how to successfully connect with people in this space,” Whyte added. “A disclaimer alone is not enough.”

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