Spotify's defense of Joe Rogan puts it on track for a huge culture war over how it moderates its platform
Spotifysaid Thursday that Joe Rogan's podcasthas outdone expectations, and its now its number-one show in its English-speaking markets.
- Rogan's podcast provoked outcry after the latest episode featured far-right conspiracy theorist
Alex Jonesas a guest. Jones was booted off Spotify in 2018 for breaking hate-speech policies.
- Spotify's executives defended the episode to both staff and analysts, saying the company won't ban specific individuals from appearing as guests on shows.
- This could mark a landmark moment in how Spotify decides to balance its financial interests against its moderation policies.
A contentious episode of Joe Rogan's popular podcast could give Spotify its first taste of an all-out Big Tech culture war.
The streaming firm on Thursday said that The
Spotify did not disclose numbers for the podcast, which launched on its service on September 1.Rogan's immense popularity is indicated by his numbers on YouTube, however, where he has nearly 10 million subscribers. His video with Alex Jones, published on October 27, had racked up more than 8.3 million views at the time of writing.
Rogan's podcast could cause culture war headache for Spotify
Spotify's coup in landing Rogan's podcast for its platform comes with complications.Questions about Rogan's guests — most recently conspiracy theorist Jones — risk propelling the firm headfirst into the kind of culture war headaches that have plagued Facebook and Google. Jones poses a particular problem. In 2018, he exemplified the way tech platforms allowed far-right hate speech and misinformation to flourish. After consistent outcry, he was eventually kicked off all the major tech platforms including Facebook and YouTube. Spotify got rid of his podcast.
Jones has notoriously peddled baseless theories, including claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, and that a Washington pizzeria was at the center of a political pedophile ring — the Pizzagate conspiracy.
Staffers have already raised concerns to senior Spotify management about Rogan's guests.
Staff warned of transphobic content in Rogan episodes
In September, employees pointed to a recent episode featuring journalist Abigail Shrier, in which Rogan interviewed her about her book "Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters." Spotify staff said they believed the episode broke the company's policies on transphobia.Spotify is now doubling down on Rogan's guests.
This seems incongruous with every other tech company's stance in 2018, including its own. Jones' podcast remains banned from Spotify, and previous episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast featuring Jones have been removed.A leaked memo obtained by BuzzFeed on Wednesday showed executives defending Jones' appearance on the show. "We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people's shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies," the email read.
Spotify commits to not banning specific guests
CEO Daniel Ek emphasized the point to the Financial Times on Thursday, saying Spotify's policies "do not entail what guests our podcasts invite on, it's more about the content itself."Asked about the topic during the company's earnings call on Thursday, Ek went further, and seemed to imply that Spotify's rules can't be too restrictive if it wants to retain talent like Joe Rogan. It can't buckle to "internal pressure or external pressure," he said. "We are a creative platform for lots of creators and it's important that they know what they expect from our platforms. If we can't do that, then there are other choices for a lot of creators to go to," Ek said.
Ek's stance sets Spotify up for challenge from employees and critics that it values volume and growth over responsible moderation.
The firm also lacks the defense long-used by companies such YouTube and Facebook, which have justified the proliferation of hateful content by pointing to the sheer amount of user-generated content they must deal with.Spotify, by contrast, aggressively vets, curates, and licenses its content. Deals like the one it struck with Joe Rogan are a key part of its growth strategy, and it's willing to fork over huge sums to seal them (it is reportedly paying more than $100 million for Joe Rogan, per the Wall Street Street Journal.)
Letting conspiracy theorists and alt-right figureheads back onto your platform is an unusual move for a tech company in 2020.
Spotify appears to have decided the potential gains outweigh the risk.
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