Spotify’s desperation to keep Joe Rogan is everything that’s wrong with Big Tech
It’s embarrassing to watch a multi-billion dollar company like Spotify kowtowing to its cash cow 'The Joe Rogan Experience' in pursuit of profits.
By now, we all know that Spotify has majorly gone on the defensive of their star podcast Joe Rogan after he was accused first by the global medical community for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccinations on his hugely popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. No action was taken and then last week, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell requested their musical catalogues be removed, with Young saying Spotify could have “Rogan or Young. But they can’t have both”.
Spotify swiftly removed Young and Mitchell, with CEO Daniel EK telling employees that Spotify “needs” Joe Rogan. Following this, as internet sleuths broadened the net for examples of Joe Rogan being problematic – and found many, including a recording of Rogan using a racial slur – Spotify has continued to defend him, stating that “silencing” him was not the answer.
And that is exactly the problem. Spotify is a $33 BILLION dollar company, yet its desperation to kowtow to Joe Rogan is almost too cringeworthy to watch. It’s a microcosm for consumer capitalism writ large: a grow or die mentality fuelled too often by greed and too little by responsibility or ethics.
Platform versus Publisher
Remember after the 2016 US Presidential election when Facebook was claiming that it was a “platform” and not a “publisher”, and therefore it had no real responsibility to what went up on the site, even if it was a series of Russian bots attempting to swing one of the most divisive political elections in decades for one of the most powerful seats of global government?
Yeah, that really happened, only the argument didn’t work. US Congress held Facebook (now Meta) to account, forced it and scared other major tech companies like Apple and Google to deal with the content on their product, to bring in better monitoring methods and more stringent security measures.
That failed argument was six years ago and yet here we are in 2022 and Spotify are trying to argue the exact same thing. Spotify is washing its hands of the ethics of The Joe Rogan Experience, while continuing to reap its financial rewards. Claiming that it doesn’t review Joe Rogan’s podcast ahead of them, it’s not a publisher and therefore it bears no responsibility for its content. But if Spotify is publishing content on its site, shouldn’t it be checking it for fairness and truth?
Despite stating to employees that he “strongly disagrees” with Joe Rogan and finds some of his podcast content “very offensive”, Ek knows Rogan is just too good for business. Because Spotify, despite its claims otherwise, is in the publishing business.
With subscriptions slowing and much of the income made from music being paid back out in royalties, Spotify has hung its hat on exclusive podcasts like Rogan’s as the way forward. They need him because he makes them money and however he does it, despite its unsavoury taste, is irrelevant to Spotify’s business model.
And if a robust, well-established, multi-billion dollar company like Spotify “need” a handful of marquee talents to survive, then the tech world is hanging its fate on a very fine thread.
This is not to downplay the value of what Joe Rogan has built. From a relatively unknown comedian to the voice of UFC, he launched The Joe Rogan Experience in the very early days of podcasting, establishing a significant audience and eventually striking a $100 million deal with Spotify in 2020 for exclusive rights. It is not untrue to say that he is one of the world’s biggest broadcasters and whether we like it or not, he is a huge cultural player.
What Rogan’s detractors are calling for is not to “silence” Rogan as Ek claims. After all, forcing Rogan out might only end up making his guests and his own beliefs even more extreme.
What Spotify is missing is that the criticism is of the voices Rogan is choosing to amplify. Voices like the far Right’s Alex Jones, Jordan Peterson and Milo Yiannopoulos, and Covid-skeptics like Dr Peter McCullough, and Dr Robert Malone, who claim that the pandemic isn’t real and is instead a mass psychosis. In Rogan’s infuriating and frequent uttering that he’s merely in search of “the truth,” he is seeking the truth from a very select number of courses, predominantly white men, without feeling bound by any kind of journalistic integrity or balance.
Cleaning the slate or muddying the waters
Over the weekend, despite its claims at being a “platform”, Spotify cleaned Joe Rogan’s house, removing over 70 episodes with what it clearly felt might be offensive content – which is essentially the definition of a publisher.
However, it’s not really a solution either. Wiping the internet of past misconduct doesn’t really make it disappear and it’s not a healthy direction to take. What would be healthy here, is responsibility.
Spotify can’t continue to have its cake and eat it too. It either needs to stand by Joe Rogan and say it approves of everything the show does exclusively on its site and most likely watch musicians start to pull from the platform or start imposing rules of fairness and balance on its cash cow.
Want to have someone on who says Covid is all in your head? Fine, but you need to counter is with an equally qualified spokesperson to argue that the pandemic is real (can’t believe I have to write those words) and actions like mask-wearing and social distancing probably saved millions of lives. This is the responsibility expected of all publishers, from TV to print.
It can’t be both the “music platform” it claims to be and the tech company it really is. Spotify has to choose, and considering how quickly it took down Young’s music last week, it looks like it already has.