Spotify crying 'content moderation' on Joe Rogan Covid misinformation falls flat

The attempts by streaming service Spotify to evade criticism of its relationship with podcaster Joe Rogan through new ‘content advisory’ warnings and pledges to do better at content moderation sound eerily similar.

While Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek’s statement on plans to do better on monitoring Covid vaccine misinformation pleased investors and Wall Street, with company stock rebounding on Monday, there was little in his words that didn’t ring hollow for the rest of us.

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Especially for those who, throughout the pandemic and before it, have heard Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, or YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki make their own abstract pledges to clamp down on the misinformation which spreads like wildfire across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Caught in a disinformation maelstrom, Spotify announces it will guide listeners of Covid-19 podcasts to established facts about the pandemic. (Image credit: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)

Spotify now faces the same frustrations over flawed content moderation that those companies have received from scientists, politicians and families of loved ones lost to coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy theories across the world.

To address it, Ek has adopted the same tone and approach as tech CEOs before him, rolling out ‘content advisory’ warnings on all podcasts discussing Covid-19 and highlighting the fine line between content moderation and censorship.

But for Spotify to align itself with this same approach, and cry ‘challenges of content moderation’ when it comes to its relationship with Rogan, takes a world of digital natives for fools.

Rogan, the stand-up comedian and podcast host, revealed his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, would be moving exclusively to Spotify in 2021 in a $100 million ‘multi-year exclusive licensing deal’, taking his millions of fans with him to boost Spotify’s user base, which now stands at almost 400 million.

Only now, after Neil Young’s stand against the platform’s partnership with Rogan threatens a domino effect of artists cashing out their pennies and leaving the platform, has Spotify sought to show a slither of transparency over its platform guidelines and a partial commitment to Covid misinformation.

While social media companies contend with a constant barrage of user-generated content to check for misinformation, violence and threats, Spotify licensed a figure who courts controversy and espouses Covid misinformation as one of ‘culture’s leading voices’ to have full creative control.

It’s only right we question Ek’s claim that Spotify, almost two years into the pandemic, will now “take this seriously”.

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