When Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify over the audio streamer’s continued support of Joe Rogan, whom he accused of spreading “misinformation and lies” about COVID via his podcast interviews, there were some nasty “who cares?” tweets directed at the folk-rock icon. But the haters should care that this deadly pandemic has been raging for nearly two years and it ain’t over yet.
Young has been adamant for some time that artists shouldn’t be touring because of COVID; he even pulled out of a Farm Aid benefit, a charity he co-founded. “He has clearly been thinking about all of this every day, and really has been the foremost artist in the industry advocating for safety over a return to business as usual,” our music aficionado Chris Willman tells me.
I applaud Young, and Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash, who in solidarity with their fellow artist also yanked their songs from Spotify: “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” Mitchell wrote. Bruce Springsteen’s longtime guitarist Nils Lofgren also removed his music, encouraging all musicians to “cut ties” with Spotify.
Prior to the recent artist protests, more than 250 doctors, nurses, scientists, health professionals and academics published a Jan. 10 open letter to Spotify, calling on the platform to implement a policy against “mass-misinformation” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, citing “The Joe Rogan Experience.” But it wasn’t until Young took a hard stand — which initially cost the global platform more than $2 billion in market value over a three-day period last week — that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek finally responded. He released a statement that he plans to add warning advisories to any podcast episodes that include discussions about COVID-19.
However, many criticized Spotify for not going far enough to stop the spread of harmful misinformation from anti-vaxxers. Entertainment publicist Steve Elzer tweeted Jan. 30 that Spotify has “handled this crisis like crap.” When I followed up with Elzer, he said: “Look, what Spotify is doing with Joe Rogan is borrowing from the Sirius-Howard Stern playbook. They have a right to grow their business. But that hardly absolves them from oversight and responsibility when it comes to content that they know — or should know — is misleading with respect to COVID.”
This past weekend, Rogan posted an Instagram video, saying, “I’m not trying to promote misinformation.” But he is doing just that. In his nearly 10-minute video, he blames his critics for having “a distorted perception of what I do, maybe based on sound bites or based on headlines of articles that are disparaging.” He said he agreed with Spotify’s decision to add a disclaimer to certain episodes and promised to “do my best in the future to balance things out” by speaking to a wider variety of experts.
“It feels like Rogan kind of got a get-out-of-jail pass with some people just because he posted an Instagram video in which he came off as a reasonable, humble guy who just wants to neutrally provide a platform for different viewpoints,” says Willman. “But that’s kind of gaslighting, when his statement only deals with the issue of having guests on and not his long record of personal advocacy in the hours he spends bantering with sidekicks — advocating for Ivermectin as being superior to vaccines, and for young people not getting vaccinated at all.”
Neil Young and Graham Nash would rather make sure people “teach your children” the truth.