It took a massive unsubscribe campaign to begin, relayed on social networks, for Spotify to take up the problem more vigorously. Accused of giving free rein to disinformation about Covid-19 in its podcasts, the Swedish audio streaming giant announced several measures on Sunday to try to respond to the growing controversy led by folk-rock legend Neil Young and embodied by other celebrities such as Canadian singer Joni Mitchell or Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle.
“Based on the feedback we have had over the past few weeks, it has 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,” said said the CEO and founder of the world number one, Daniel Ek, in a press release.
Among the measures announced, the introduction of links in all its podcasts evoking the Covid, which will guide its users to factual and scientifically sourced information. An effective measure “in the coming days”, promises the Swedish billionaire. Spotify also made public its rules of use on Sunday and says it is “testing ways” to better signal to podcast creators “what is acceptable”, without however openly mentioning a sanction or exclusion mechanism.
A lucrative contract with Joe Rogan
Enough to calm things down? It was Neil Young who initiated the movement against the Swedish group, asking it to stop hosting the controversial but widely listened to American host Joe Rogan, number one in podcast listening on Spotify last year. The latter, whose contract signed with the Swedish group last year is estimated at 100 million dollars, is accused of having discouraged vaccination among young people and of having pushed for the use of an unauthorized treatment, ivermectin, against the coronavirus.
More than 200 American health professionals had recently sounded the alarm after he had received on his show a doctor much appreciated by anti-vaccines, Robert Malone. Failing to win, Neil Young had put his threat into execution this week. At first, Spotify was content to express its “regrets” about the departure of the American-Canadian star, whose gesture was applauded by the boss of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Spotify has become a place for potentially deadly Covid misinformation. Lies sold for money,” accused Neil Young. In the process, another cult singer with millions of subscribers, the Canadian Joni Mitchell, announced her withdrawal from the platform. At the same time, on social networks, a movement of unsubscription to Spotify was born. Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle – who have signed an estimated $25 million deal with the platform – said on Sunday they had expressed “concerns” to Spotify over the matter.
The difficult question of content control
Since its spectacular emergence from the rank of Stockholm start-up to that of world leader listed in New York, the Swedish flagship has already been regularly criticized by artists on the amounts it pays them, even if its role in the recovery of the music industry is hailed. By developing with hundreds of millions of dollars in podcasts in recent years, the company of Daniel Ek, 38, also sees its responsibilities as a content host extend beyond music.
Last year, Daniel Ek judged on an Axios podcast (“Re: Cap”) that the platform had no editorial responsibility for the content. “We also have rappers (…) who make tens of millions of dollars, or even more, every year on Spotify. And we don’t tell them what to put in their songs,” he said. The experts interviewed by AFP recognize that the question of content control is not simple, both from the point of view of editorial freedom and the millions of hours of comments available on a platform.
Neil Young, victim when he was a child of a poliomyelitis attack from which he kept the consequences all his life, defended himself from any desire for censorship concerning the Covid-19. “I did it because deep in my heart I had no other choice,” he wrote.